Stanford Law School
The Fear of Disability Con: Public Suspicion of Abuse of Disability Rights
My project examines themes such as mistrust, legality and individualism in American society through the lens of disability studies and through the study of interpersonal, everyday interactions in the shadow of law. The project highlights tacit judgments regarding the authenticity of disability claims. I argue that laypeople have unstated assumptions about the “true nature” of others’ disabilities and regarding the motives that drive their actions in utilizing disability law. These unstated assumptions fall under what I call the “public perception of disability con,” i.e., the fear that people take advantage of accommodations and disability-related rights by faking disabilities. This suspicion discourages people with disabilities from claiming and maintaining their legal rights. It thus prevents their equal participation in social life. Individuals are suspected of only pretending to have disabilities in order to receive benefits or “perks” such as favorable parking spot, skipping lines at theme parks, gaining privileges with regard to their pets (which they present as service animals), or receiving accommodations in academic settings. I study these four “benefits” in my experiments and combine the results with observational data collected from a national survey and in-depth interviews to provide a rich account of the studied socio-legal phenomenon with the goal of ameliorating the stigma around it.