This past semester I wrote a paper on the representation of disability in the Harry Potter series. One of my more minor claims was that political establishments and governments serve as the enforcers of the borders of normalcy, and thus determine which abilities will be appreciated and which will be marginalized. To kind of back peddle, and hopefully make this a little more clear, the entire argument behind this paper is that disability is not a category inherent in itself, but a category created by how a society or culture defines what is normal or what is abnormal. Disability therefore comes to define a group of people who are excluded from standards of normalcy. The point about politics and government is that political institutions codify social ideas of normal/abnormal or what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
This was a long way of saying, now that I am settling into my internship, and learning more about the ins and outs of governmental work, I am doubting my original claims and more fully appreciating the significance of the ADA. In my thesis I minimized the significance of the government, saying it was merely a source of legitimacy from which to enforce these ideas of normalcy. Learning more about the buildup to this year’s 20th anniversary of the ADA, I am realizing the significance of the ADA is the way it reconstructs and redefines the category of disability, contrary to society’s dominant ideas about disability at the time. Of course this is exactly what all the leaders and activists involved in the passage of the ADA have been saying, but as an “ADA Baby” (meaning I grew up with the ADA already enacted) I guess I did not really understand the magnitude. For me, equal rights for our community has seemed like an inevitable progression, something basically guaranteed to occur. I grew up with the “luxury” (for lack of a more accurate word) of pride in the disability community and the expectation of equal rights. But the leaders and activists who worked for the ADA’s passage not only had to work to keep that pride alive in themselves, but also convince others that the expectation of equal rights for the disability community needed to be legislated and legitimized by the government, contrary to popular opinion’s...misunderstandings.
As so many have been recounting, the success of the ADA lies partially in the changed attitudes of society towards the disability community. Through this internship, I am getting a glimpse of how monumental this success really is. Everyday, constituents are calling, emailing, writing, or visiting, pushing for their positions, wanting their voice to be heard, and hoping to influence the direction of our nation. I am only now beginning to imagine all the activism and exhausting work it took to get disability rights on the agenda, let alone passed through the legislative process.