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Double jeopardy: Disabled and black disability, race, and their interaction

Evelyn M Maeder, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines the disparity between public perceptions of disability and the definition used in pre-2009 ADA jurisprudence, and the influence of race on decisions in disability discrimination cases. Under its original formulation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of disability was vague and open to interpretation. With courts using largely unguided discretion, mental impairments rarely qualified as disabilities, and disagreements emerged as to whether impairments should be considered in their correct or uncorrected state. The Supreme Court addressed the latter issue in Sutton v. United Airlines by ruling that impairments must be considered in their corrected state, resulting in more consistent decisions but possibly creating a gap between ADA jurisprudence and public perceptions of disability. Study 1 examined this issue by manipulating impairment type (physical, mental), impairment severity (low, high) and mitigating measures (present, absent) in a failure-to-hire employment discrimination case. Results demonstrated that the public holds a very different view than did early ADA jurisprudence, in that participants were more certain of the complainant’s status as disabled when he was mentally rather than physically impaired, and were more likely to view his case dismissal as unfair. Further, participants did not differentiate between complainants who did or did not make use of corrective measures. Recent amendments to the ADA may address these issues, in that the Act now states that mitigating measures must not be considered when evaluating impairments, and that episodic impairments can be regarded as disabilities, increasing the likelihood that mental impairments will qualify. Study 2 examined the influence of race on disability decisions. Aversive racism theory predicts that race may influence decisions when situations are more ambiguous, allowing for justifications based on factors other than race. This study examined this issue by manipulating impairment type and severity as in Study 1, and by manipulating success of mitigating measures (limited, near-total) and complainant race (Black, White). Results demonstrated that participants were more certain of discrimination against the complainant when he was White, and also perceived his case dismissal as less fair, indicating direct influences of race on decision-making in disability discrimination cases.^

Subject Area

Black Studies|Psychology, Social|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Maeder, Evelyn M, "Double jeopardy: Disabled and black disability, race, and their interaction" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3344515.