'Simplify You, Classify You': Stigma, Stereotypes and Civil Rights in Disability Classification Systems

47 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2007

Date Written: April 23, 2007


In this paper I consider the question of the extent to which sanism and pretextuality - the factors that contaminate all of mental disability law - do or do not equally contaminate the special education process, and the decision to label certain children as learning disabled. The thesis of this paper is that the process of labeling of children with intellectual disabilities implicates at least five conflicts and clusters of policy issues:

* The need to insure that all children receive adequate education

* The need to insure that the cure is not worse than the illness (that is, that the labeling of a child as being in need of special education services doesn't insure that the child will forever be seen as a second-class citizen)

* The need to consider the ultimate impact this decision may have if the child eventually winds up in the criminal justice system,

* The need to consider the relationship between the decision-making in this system and issues of gender, social class, and race, and

* The need to consider the public's attitude that a learning disability label is an advantage to a child competing for admission to a prestigious university or graduate school.

This paper traces the history of American federal legislation and special education law reform in the American courts; considers some of the real life problems that create pitfalls in the implementation and enforcement of those laws; looks at the meanings of sanism and pretextuality, in an effort to illuminate the insidious ways that stereotyping drives decision-making; considers issues of race and social class, looking specifically at the connection between these issues, sanism and pretextuality, and the implications of that connection for the purposes of this inquiry; considers the unique relationship between special education labeling and the criminal justice system; and looks at the way that special education labeling is seen as somehow different from other types of labeling, noting that some upper-middle class and upper class families sometimes view the label as a strategic or tactical advantage.

Keywords: Special education, mental disability law, sanism, pretextuality, labelling, criminal justice, learning disabled

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., 'Simplify You, Classify You': Stigma, Stereotypes and Civil Rights in Disability Classification Systems (April 23, 2007). Georgia State University Law Review, Vol. 25, p. 607, 2009, New York Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06/07-27, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=982226

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

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New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2183 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.nyls.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/emeriti_faculty/

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