Disability Studies Quarterly Blog

Book and Media


Review by Ally Peabody Smith

Title and affiliation: Postdoctoral Scholar, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Email: allyhpsmith@gmail.com

Keywords: law

The Routledge Handbook of Disability Law and Human Rights, recently released as a paperback after its initial 2017 publication, provides a rigorous overview of the 25-year history of disability rights law, including recent advances and present debates. The handbook is divided into three segments: the first covers theoretical underpinnings of disability law, such as the social model of disability and the emerging “human rights” model of disability advanced by Theresia Degener among others; the second, ongoing debates in disability law, including the inclusion debate in education and employment rights; the third, emerging areas of disability law. This final section is particularly exciting for scholars entering the increasingly popular field of Disability Studies, as it points to areas that are likely to continue to gain attention like the role of the family, intersectionality, legal capacity, independence and autonomy.

Particular highlights to my eye included Rosemary Kayess and Jenifer Green’s essay, “Today’s lesson is on Diversity” and Lucy Series, Anna Arstein-Kerslake and Elizabeth Kamundia’s “Legal Capacity: A global analysis of reform trends.”

Focusing on Australia, Kayess and Green provide an overview of the history of the inclusion debate in education, ultimately defending inclusive policies implied by the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP). In emphasizing diversity and accommodation, inclusive education seeks a public education system where all students have access to the same schools and resources, albeit with accommodations tailored to the needs of particular students. This has the benefit of exposing both disabled and nondisabled students to a vast array of diversity in abilities, which will have positive effects for all – ideally, a slow but steady dismantling of ableism on the part of nondisabled students, and, for disabled ones, inclusion and equal access to education. While the authors do not address in too much detail students for whom mainstream education may not in fact be the best or most helpful option, they do advance a broader understanding of potential accommodations that go beyond the current paradigm of inclusion only when it will not incur ‘unjustifiable hardship.’ Their close reading of the legislature on disability rights was helpful in advancing the call for an increased scope of inclusion.

Series, Arstein-Kerslake, and Kamundia analyze the controversy surrounding the right to legal capacity in Article 12 of CRDP. The controversy has to do with the call for equality inherent in the framing of the right to legal capacity, in which denials of legal capacity in disabled persons must be made on the same basis as they are for nondisabled persons. This can be difficult in cases of intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, where respecting legal capacity on an equal basis (including respecting rights, wills, and preferences) becomes particularly challenging. In 2014, the CRDP Committee drafted a general comment to aid State Parties in interpreting and applying the obligations suggested in Article 12. Of note, distinguishing between legal and mental capacity are among the advances the authors suggest that the General Comment captured. The chapter provides an overview of interpretation of Article 12, including helpful information about how the CRPD Committee envisions compliance in the future. 

The scope of the reader goes far beyond the highlights above, covering diverse and captivating content pertaining to disability law and human rights. Its practical orientation is likely to draw attention from legal scholars, empirically-oriented sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, or anthropologists, as well as those with an interest in political inclusivity and social justice. The handbook will be useful to educators seeking an up-to-date overview of issues pertaining to disability justice, legislature pertaining to disability, and their connections to human rights discourse more broadly. Because its focus is on ground-level, practically relevant issues with concrete impact on the lives of those with disabilities, readers seeking a more theoretically-grounded resource may be disappointed; however, the reader covers a vast territory clearly and effectively, successfully culling historical and current literatures from the field of Disability Law and Human Rights.

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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