UC Law Journal


People with disabilities, especially the impoverished among them, have long been the object of legal advocacy. In the rush of advocacy, lawyers have forgotten that the concept of the disabled, like the concept of the poor, is an artifact of American law and society. It is a thing mediated through ideals and discourses, a thing constructed rather than naturally or necessarily given. The social construction of disability occurs in the daily practices of advocacy, administration, and adjudication. These material practices form the dominant and subordinate visions of the disabled.

The dominant vision of the disabled conjures images of dependence, incompetence, and deviance. Those images dictate client- lawyer and client-state relations of benevolence and discipline. The product of such relations is a victimization strategy of advocacy. By contrast, the subordinate vision of the disabled conveys images of independence, competence, vulnerability, and solidarity. These counter images signify roles and relations of autonomy and community. The integration of the ideals and discourses of autonomy and community into conventional lawyering practices yields an enabling strategy of disability advocacy.

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