Fear of the Disability Con: Perceptions of Fraud and Special Rights Discourse

Law & Society Review, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2019

41 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2019 Last revised: 21 Apr 2020

Date Written: October 3, 2019


This Article presents a new framework for analyzing the development and implementation of disability law: the prism of the fear of “the disability con” — popular perceptions of fraud and fakery. We all encounter disability rights and accommodations in everyday life. However, people with disabilities pay a price for the legal recognition of their rights. People who park in disabled parking spots, use service dogs, move to the front of lines, receive Social Security benefits, or request academic accommodations are often viewed as faking disabilities and abusing the law. This disability con stereotype thus serves as an important invisible barrier preventing Americans with disabilities from fully taking part in society, as it not only undermines the public legitimacy of rights but also restricts the design and implementation of the legal regime illustrating those. Nevertheless, this moral panic around disability con in American society and its manifestations has yet to be studied in a systematic-empirical way, nor has it been addressed in socio-legal scholarship. Using a mixed-methods approach composed of an original nationally representative survey along with in-depth interviews, this article fills this gap. The data suggest that the stereotype of disability con applies to multiple disability rights across venues and contexts; that nearly 60% of Americans with disabilities feel that others question their disability; that the stereotype of disability con extends to visible disabilities and to less apparent ones; and that, counterintuitively, the people most suspicious are nondisabled individuals with a personal connection to a disabled person and disabled people who experience suspicion themselves. Based on the richer understanding of the socio-legal phenomenon, this article suggests strategies to increase trust and reduce suspicion of the disability con.

Keywords: Disability Law; Empirical Legal Studies; Civil rights; Law & Psychology; Law & Society; Law & Emotions; Survey Research; Public Opinion; Fraud; Social Policy

Suggested Citation

Dorfman, Doron, Fear of the Disability Con: Perceptions of Fraud and Special Rights Discourse (October 3, 2019). Law & Society Review, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3463814 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3463814

Doron Dorfman (Contact Author)

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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