[Un]Usual Suspects: Deservingness, Scarcity, and Disability Rights

Forthcoming UC Irvine Law Review (2020)

58 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2019 Last revised: 28 May 2019

See all articles by Doron Dorfman

Doron Dorfman

Syracuse University - College of Law

Date Written: March 10, 2019


People encounter disability in public spaces where accommodations are granted to those who fit into this protected legal class. Nondisabled people desire many of these accommodations—such as the use of reserved parking spots or the ability to avoid waiting in a queue—and perceive them as “special rights” prone to abuse. This apprehension about the exploitation of rights by those pretending to be disabled, which I refer to as “fear of the disability con,” erodes trust in disability law and affects people with disabilities both on an individual level and a group level. Individuals with disabilities are often harassed or questioned about their identity when using their rights. As a group, disabled people are forced to navigate through new defensive policies that seek to address widely held perceptions of fakery and abuse. This Article uses a series of survey experiments conducted with multiple nationally representative samples totaling more than 3,200 Americans along with 47 qualitative in-depth interviews. It brings to light the psychological mechanism of suspicion and identifies factors that motivate fear of the disability con in public spaces. Findings counterintuitively suggest that the scarcity of the desired public resources has no effect on the level of suspicion against potential abusers. Rather, it is the sense of deservingness (or lack thereof) in the eyes of others that drives suspicion. Using these empirical findings, as well as analysis of relevant case law, this Article outlines the normative implications for the design and implementation of laws affecting millions of individuals. Furthermore, this research contributes to our understanding of how rights behave on the ground, both with regard to disability and to myriad distributive policies.

Keywords: Disability Law, Law & Psychology, Empirical Legal Studies, Law & Society, Disability Studies, Social Welfare, Fraud

Suggested Citation

Dorfman, Doron, [Un]Usual Suspects: Deservingness, Scarcity, and Disability Rights (March 10, 2019). Forthcoming UC Irvine Law Review (2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3352551

Doron Dorfman (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - College of Law ( email )

Syracuse, NY 13244-1030
United States

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