Disability Admin: The Invisible Costs of Being Disabled

49 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2021 Last revised: 9 Mar 2023

Date Written: November 17, 2021


Disability law has failed to account for a form of labor that especially burdens people with disabilities. That labor is the office-work of life, also called life admin. Disability spurs three main forms of life admin: medical admin, benefits admin, and discrimination admin. First, the managerial and secretarial labor of dealing with a medical issue (including the research, scheduling, forms, bills, and insurance hassles that may follow) can overwhelm a person already confronting a medical challenge. Second, the admin of applying for benefits (involving paperwork, documentation, denials, appeals, and recertifications) is so onerous and complicated that even lawyers find it perplexing. Third, discrimination, which under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes the failure to accommodate, creates even more forms of disability admin: from deciding whether and how to protest biased treatment or lack of access, to figuring out how to navigate through or around inaccessible environments, to name just two examples. Recognizing the admin costs of disability has important implications for legal doctrine, most notably the analysis of what is a “reasonable” accommodation under the ADA. Courts have used a cost-benefit framework to determine reasonableness, but they have failed to include the admin costs to individuals in the calculus. Correcting this oversight is merely the most prominent of the doctrinal insights that ensues from appreciating the role of disability admin in the law that affects people with disabilities. This Essay sets out the central components of disability admin before proceeding to demonstrate its neglect and its importance to disability law.

Suggested Citation

Emens, Elizabeth F., Disability Admin: The Invisible Costs of Being Disabled (November 17, 2021). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-699, 105 Minn. L. Rev. 2329 (2021), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3968622

Elizabeth F. Emens (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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