"The Americans with Disabilities Act as Risk Regulation"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
Columbia Law Review
Publication Type
Journal Article

Much disability based discrimination occurs because of fears that hiring or serving people with disabilities will pose a safety risk. Disability rights laws such as the ADA strictly regulate such risk-motivated discrimination. Many disability rights advocates and academic defenders of the ADA laud such laws as applying a "scientific" approach to risk rather than the "irrational" approach generally adopted by the public at large. That position is doubly strange: It stands in remarkable tension with disability rights advocates' general suspicion of "experts," and applies a technocratic approach to risk regulation--an approach that usually has politically conservative implications--to achieve the distinctly nonconservative goal of promoting the full integration of people with disabilities into our nation's economic and civic life. In this essay, Professor Bagenstos uses the problem of risk-motivated disability discrimination as a lens through which to examine the politics of risk regulation scholarship. He argues that the easy association of technocratic approaches with political conservatism--and of democratic approaches with political liberalism or progressivism--ignores the complex ways in which technocratic and democratic institutions may serve or disserve particular political interests.

Full Text