When Disability Isn't 'Just Right': The Entrenchment of the Medical Model of Disability and the Goldilocks Dilemma

52 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2007 Last revised: 26 Sep 2017

See all articles by Bradley A. Areheart

Bradley A. Areheart

University of Tennessee College of Law


In this Article, I analyze how federal courts' interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have presented a Goldilocks dilemma for disabled individuals. In particular, I examine how a typical ADA plaintiff is found either not disabled enough to warrant the protections of the ADA or too disabled to be a qualified individual for the respective job. The result is that very few plaintiffs are disabled just right. Such a result is at odds with the original intent of the ADA.

Concern over the ADA could hardly be more timely. In July of 2007, bipartisan legislation based on the National Council on Disability's recommendations was introduced in the House of Representatives. It was entitled the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, (H.R. 3195) and would represent a significant change to the present statute.

After briefly explicating the two dominant theoretical models for understanding disability - the medical and social models of disability - I examine how most of the problems with how disability is understood and interpreted stem from the entrenchment of the medical model of disability. I explain how representations in the media and federal court decisions have underscored a medicalized view of disability. Moreover, I document how such a view has fostered misperceptions and false stereotypes concerning those with disabilities.

Finally, I advocate that Congress pass an ADA Restoration Act similar to the one that was recently proposed. I explain how this Act would overhaul the ADA and provide a compelling solution that has not yet received much scholarly examination. I also recommend that the EEOC draft reports to document systemic disability discrimination toward certain groups.

Keywords: civil rights, disability, medical, ADA, stereotypes, legislation, disabled, models, theory, social construction

JEL Classification: J70, J71, J78, J79

Suggested Citation

Areheart, Bradley A., When Disability Isn't 'Just Right': The Entrenchment of the Medical Model of Disability and the Goldilocks Dilemma. 83 Indiana Law Journal 181 (2008), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=980177

Bradley A. Areheart (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

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