Disability Rights, Disability Discrimination, and Social Insurance
32 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2008 Last revised: 8 Apr 2015
Date Written: October 1, 2008
This paper asks whether statutory social insurance programs, which provide contributory tax-based income support to people with disabilities, are compatible with the disability rights movement's ideas. Central to the movement that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act is the insight that physical or mental conditions do not disable; barriers created by the environment or by social attitudes keep persons with physical or mental differences from participating in society as equals.
The conflict between the civil rights approach and insurance seems apparent. A person takes out insurance to deal with tragedy, such as premature death, or damage, such as accidental harm to an automobile or home. Social insurance, for example, the United States Social Security old-age and disability programs, consists of government-run insurance to cover risks of advanced age and disability for which the private market has not provided affordable coverage. But the civil rights approach to disability posits that disability is not a risk, not tragedy, and not a damage or defect. Instead it is a maladaptation of society to human variation.
This paper argues that a justification remains for social insurance under the civil rights approach to disability, and further suggests that expansion of social insurance for disability is both compatible with disability rights principles and supported by wise public policy.
Keywords: disability, civil rights, social insurance, disability insurance, disability discrimination
JEL Classification: D60, H55, I31, J38, J71
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation