Taking it to the Streets: A Public Right-of-Way Project for Disability Law
17 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2010 Last revised: 8 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
I teach a course in Disability Discrimination Law, which is designed as a civil rights course focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act. When the ADA was passed in 1990, it was celebrated by many as one of the most significant civil-rights victories of this century. The ADA was enacted to “provide clear, strong, consistent, [and] enforceable standards [for] addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities,” and prohibits discrimination in employment, public services and transportation, privately-owned places of public accommodations, and telecommunications. Although the ADA is not the first federal law addressing disability, its passage made clear that the continued exclusion of people with disabilities from full participation in all aspects of public life is a civil rights issue.
As the subject of its own course, it is a relative newcomer to the field of civil rights, as most courses devoted to disability law appeared after the enactment of the ADA in 1990. Disability law has aspects in common with other civil rights courses and also some important differences. The employment provisions of Title I, for example, are modeled in part after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, national origin, sex and religion, but face distinctive challenges, including the definition of “disability,” the requirement of reasonable accommodation, and the issue of cost. Although Title I has received the most attention, similar issues are presented by Title II, which prohibits discrimination by public entities, and Title III, which prohibits discrimination by places of public accommodation. People with disabilities face a wide range of discrimination, including the thoughtlessness and indifference of non-disabled people. Often, issues critical to the lives of people with disabilities go unnoticed, and therefore unaddressed, by others. Although there are many reasons for this, one reason is the failure of people without disabilities to identify with the experiences of people with disabilities – a lack of “experiential accessibility” to borrow a phrase from philosopher Anita Silvers.
I wanted to design a project that would introduce students to significant issues of doctrine, theory and policy under the ADA. I also wanted to equip them with the practical skills to employ that knowledge on behalf of clients and in their own communities. Finally, I hoped to provide a meaningful context for exploring issues and tensions underlying disability law and the disability rights movement, and to notice and address an issue of importance to people with disabilities in the community. A service learning project seemed especially appropriate to these ends, and in keeping with the movement toward integrating pro bono and public service opportunities into doctrinal courses. It also resonates with the mission of the School of Law to educate “legal professionals who use their knowledge to serve others.” This article describes the public right-of-way project that I designed with these goals in mind.
Keywords: Teaching, Civil Rights, Discrimination, Disability, ADA, Civil Rights, Public Right-of-Way, Public Accommodation, Access, Service Learning, Public Service
JEL Classification: 100, I10, I12, I18, J7, J70, J71, J78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation