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Disability, Priority, and Social Justice



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1 Disability Priority and Social Justice published in Americans with Disabilities Exploring the Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions ed by Leslie A Francis and Anita Silvers London Routledge 2000 Richard J Arneson version 7 27 99 Is having a disability more like being a member of a racially stigmatized group or like lacking a talent Both analogies might be apt The Americans with Disabilities Act stresses the former analogy The framing thought is that people with disabilities are objects of prejudice and prejudiced behaviors which wrongfully exclude them from participation in important social practices such as the labor market Think for example of a blind person whose job applications are always automatically rejected because she is blind and without any consideration of her aptitude for this or that specific job Such a person suffers wrongful discrimination and is denied equality of opportunity A further thought along the same line is that a longstanding pattern of discrimination can alter the shape of institutions and practices so that even if individuals now are chosen for jobs strictly on the basis of their likely productivity current productivity may reflect past discriminatory practices so equality of opportunity properly understood can be violated even if no employers currently are acting from prejudice An example would be a factory in which for many years only men have been hired for skilled jobs and the workplace is designed for their convenience with bathrooms regularly spaced Now women are hired and retained for skilled jobs along with men acording to productivity but women systematically produce less than men because at the skilled work site bathrooms for women are few and far between In this example an investment in bathrooms would create a level playing field for men and women to compete on fair terms This case and others we might invent suggest the need to analyze the ideals of nondiscrimination and equality of opportunity Another



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