Framing Disability
Elizabeth F. Emens   |   2012 U. Ill. L. Rev. 1383
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Mainstream attitudes toward disability lag behind U.S. law. This tension between attitudes and law reflects a wider gap between the ideas about disability pervasive in mainstream society—what this Article calls the “outside” view—and the ideas about disability common within the disability community—what this Article calls the “inside” view. The outside perspective tends to misunderstand and mischaracterize aspects of the experience, theory, and law of disability.

The law can help to close this gap in attitudes by changing the conditions in which attitudes are formed or reinforced. Thus, this Article proposes using framing rules to target the moments when nondisabled people make decisions that implicate their future relationship to disability. Framing rules prescribe the frame applied to particular decision moments, by specifying the information and context that accompany the decision. The current messages surrounding disability decision moments tend to be misleading and negative, rooted in the outside view of disability. The proposed framing rules would instead provide insights from the inside view to people who have a reason to think about disability.

This Article examines several decision points to which the inside framing perspective could be applied, including prenatal testing, driver’s licensing, and disability insurance. Each of these areas is an example of a broader domain—thinking about the kind of children we want, injury prevention campaigns, and contingency planning—in which disability is frequently presented in negative terms. Reframing these disability-relevant moments from an inside perspective should help bring society closer to understanding how accessibility and inclusion provide a form of social insurance not just for some, but for us all.