Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version

January 1996


Published in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Vol. 14, pp.1–3 (1996). Copyright © 1996 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Used by permission.


In 1990, the United States Congress enacted legislation protecting the civil rights of persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990) has been termed the most significant civil rights legislation since the 1960s (Rothstein, 1992/1994; see also Drimmer, 1993; Gostin & Beyer, 1993). The intent of the ADA is to provide “not only equal treatment [for persons with disabilities], but also equal opportunity” (Rothstein, 1992, p. 19, emphasis in original). The purpose of the ADA is not only to eliminate intentional discrimination, but also to change “policies and practices that have a discriminatory impact” on persons with disabilities (p. 19). The ADA was implemented in the wake of decades of growing awareness of and responses to the numerous societal barriers confronted by persons with disabilities. The civil rights movement for persons with disabilities was spawned by grass roots movements (Scotch, 1984). Over time, this civil rights movement has been aided by behavioral science research as well as by legal actions (see, e.g., Scotch, 1984, 1988; see also Ainlay, Becker, & Coleman, 1986; Asch & Fine, 1988; Rothstein, 1992/1994; Shapiro, 1993).

It is still too early to assess the ultimate success of the specific ADA legislation, much less the general disability-rights, advocacy movement. Nevertheless, as the articles in this special issue of Behavioral Sciences and the Law reflect, the behavioral-science-and-law community has much to contribute to the elimination of the marginalization of persons with disabilities in modern society. As shown in the articles in this issue, these efforts can include a) assessing progress in light of legislation and policy reforms, b) identifying on-going barriers, and c) offering ideas for different ways to conceptualize not only the problems, but also the solutions to problems confronting persons with disabilities. Ultimately, these and the other efforts being undertaken in the legal, social, and political arenas should help in the fight to fully integrate persons with disabilities into every part of the social fabric.

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