Changing American attitudes.
LESSONS FROM AMERICA: A STUDY OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES
By Victoria Scott.
The Royal Association for Disability and
ISBN 0 900270 80 1
DISABLING LAWS, ENABLING ACTS. DISABILITY RIGHTS IN BRITAIN AND
By Caroline Gooding.
£40 (hardback) £12.95 (paperback)
ISBN 0 7453 0770 1 (hardback)
0 7453 0771 X (paperback)
This is the decade when anti-discrimination legislation for
disabled people finally moved from margin to mainstream. No longer
a minority cause, it has now been supported in different ways by
the Institute of Directors and even The Sun. And, after 11
unsuccessful attempts, 1995 sees two bills simultaneously in
parliament – Harry Barnes’ comprehensive private members Bill
(which will not become law) and the government’s somewhat paler
version, which presumably will. Both owe a good deal to the
American with Disabilities Act 1990, and it is this which informs
and inspires the two books under review.
Victoria Scott’s report is the shorter and more accessible,
based on her trip to the United States as a Winston Churchill
Fellow in 1993. Lessons From America makes illuminating reading on
experiences in the US three years on, with two final chapters
relating these findings to discrimination against disabled people
in Britain and the prospects for anti-discrimination legislation
Caroline Gooding’s Disabling Laws, Enabling Acts is a more
densely argued volume, betraying signs of its origins as a thesis.
Its coverage is more wide-ranging than Scott’s, placing
anti-discrimination legislation within the context of legal theory
and examining in detail the structure and effectiveness of American
disability laws, with final chapters focused on the most effective
form for disability legislation in the UK. Her analysis of the
British experience of sex and race discrimination makes depressing
reading, but the lessons to be learned (for example the need for a
pro-active commission with teeth) are important.
What are the lessons from the two reports as Britain draws
closer to seeing anti-discrimination legislation for disabled
people on the statue books for the first time? That the ADA was won
for a variety of reasons, not least the personal impact of
disability on the lives of key proponents (Edward Kennedy, with a
disabled son and sister; Tom Harkin, a disabled brother; George
Bush, two disabled sons).
That the cost of making ‘accommodations’ to facilitate disabled
people’s employment under the Act has been far smaller than was
ever imagined (31 per cent have been at no cost, 19 per cent at
costs of $1-$1.50, 19 per cent at $15-$500).
The significance of a growing and increasingly effective
disability movement and lobby is also highlighted. It argued for
change as the bill went through the legislative process, campaigned
for improved subsequent regulations and enforcement and ensured
that the debate was seen as an issue of rights not welfare.
Of special interest, given our current economic and political
climate, are the arguments adopted by those supporting the ADA,
namely that anti-discrimination legislation gets people off welfare
and into work; it saves the state money.
And that anti-discrimination legislation can be good for
business, too. (Scott cites a pizza parlour in New Jersey which
introduced a relay communication system for deaf people for its
take away service, advertised extensively within the deaf community
and found that profits on the take out service rose by 80 per cent
in the first three months after installation).
In the UK meanwhile, it is suggested that our economy is
suffering through the exclusion of an enormous untapped market of
6.5 million disabled people because of inaccessible products and
Can our struggling economy afford to ignore this market? Will
the government behave more honourably in its treatment of
anti-discrimination legislation in 1995 than it has done hitherto?
Cross your fingers and watch this space.
Linda Ward is programme adviser (disability) at the
Joseph Rowntree Foundation.