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					The Disability Rights Movement:
  A Sociological Perspective
        David Pettinicchio
            PhD Candidate
         Department of Sociology
  What’s a social movement ?
• A social movement “is a set of opinions
  and beliefs in a population which
  represents preferences for changing some
  elements of the social structure and/or
  reward distribution of a society”
• social movements are often represented
  by formal organizations
• Targets vary
      Social movement success
• What do social movements do and how do we
  know they’re good at doing them?
• Have to look at the target
  –   They shift public opinion
  –   They influence the media
  –   They affect policy
  –   They become co-opted into the state
  –   They influence court cases

• A note on cooption as a negative outcome
        Ways we think of social
• I will discuss three major sociological
  theories which I will apply to disability
• Resource mobilization
  – professionalization
• Organizational ecology
  – Density dependence
• Political Process
  – Political opportunity structure
• How have we empirically tested these theories?
• Two major cases: women’s movement and black
  civil rights movement
• We found that women and black civil rights
  movements have experienced similar
  mobilization due to political opportunities in the
• We also found that groups became more
  professionalized over time and less protest
  oriented in the 1970s and 1980s
         What is the disability rights
• Some sociologists would argue there was no disability rights
  movement until much later
   – There was little mobilization as sociologists would define it until the
• Were organizations actually able to mobilize resources for
  beneficiaries so as to promote social change? (RM)
• Doesn’t appear that organizations were organized around
  advocacy (as strategy) (Ecology)
• What political opportunities are they responding to if not
  those other movements were responding to? (Political
• Remember, our theories have been tested using specific
• Does this make sociological theory unable to explain
  disability rights? On the contrary, we can use these theories
  to explain disability rights mobilization
   – Because the same processes are at work, just that the case and
     timing is different than women’s movement and black civil rights
   What makes disability rights an
    interesting empirical case?
• A movement that has had to define its place
  within a civil rights frame
  – What does this mean and why is this important?
• For much of its history, beneficiaries were not
  organizational members
  – Why might this matter to social movements?
• Don’t have a “necessary opposition”
• A movement that already had an advantage that
  most other movements didn’t have and this is an
  advantage that was not a result of the
  movement: The Rehab Act of 1973
  – “the movement was in the government”
        What do I expect to find?
• Resource Mobilization
   – Professionalized groups are able to use resource-expensive tactics
     like lobbying and legal mobilization but this won’t happen until there
     are advocacy oriented organizations
• Organizational ecology
   – Prior to the late 1970s, disability groups will be service-provision
     oriented, and probably single focused.
   – Later, due to density-dependence, organizations try to adapt and
     adopt new more advocacy or protest oriented strategies.
• Political Opportunity
   – But organizations will only adopt advocacy or protests if the
     environment in which they operate calls for it
   – Why the late 70s and 80s? Rather than responding to an opening in
     the Political opportunity structure, they were responding to
       • What am I referring to here?
    Social Movements and Legal
• A specific tactic used by movement
  organizations is initializing the courts on
  behalf of plaintiffs
• But legal mobilization is a resource-
  expensive strategy because it requires
  money, staff and expertise
• But the payoffs could be great
  – Monetary, expansion of case law, setting
       What do studies show?
• Extra-legal or policy based models for legal
  – Justices’ party affiliation, preferences, won’t hear
    cases they know the court won’t overturn, etc.
• We also know that EEO studies have found that
  cases with amicus curiae are more likely to get
  heard, and also more likely to have a favorable
• EEO mobilization in the 1970s experienced a
  favorable tide when courts were sympathetic to
  African American and women plaintiffs
    Disability rights and legal
mobilization: An empirical question
• What laws are disability plaintiffs mobilizing?
   – Does it matter to ask this question?
• Rehabilitation Act: Reasonable Accommodation
  and Undue Hardship
   – What has been the problem or what may distinguish
     disability plaintiffs from others?
• Did you know that Nixon vetoed the Rehab Act
  twice, but never because of the affirmative
  action section. It was the costs of
  accommodation that sent out a signal.
 What is needed then for disability
legal mobilization to be successful?
• Advocacy organizations
• Resource-rich organizations
• Legislation under which to file suit (or at
  least, an impetus to use the courts)
• Positive/negative reaction by courts can
  stimulate further mobilization
A victory for one minority is victory for all?

      Why do you think scholars would say this?
      Do you agree?

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