Cover of Politics of Empowerment by David Pettinicchio
Politics of Empowerment
Disability Rights and the Cycle of American Policy Reform
David Pettinicchio

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September 2019
280 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9781503600874
Paper ISBN: 9781503609761
Digital ISBN: 9781503609778

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Despite the progress of decades-old disability rights policy, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, threats continue to undermine the wellbeing of this population. The U.S. is, thus, a policy innovator and laggard in this regard. In Politics of Empowerment, David Pettinicchio offers a historically grounded analysis of the singular case of U.S. disability policy, countering long-held views of progress that privilege public demand as its primary driver.

By the 1970s, a group of legislators and bureaucrats came to act as "political entrepreneurs." Motivated by personal and professional commitments, they were seen as experts leading a movement within the government. But as they increasingly faced obstacles to their legislative intentions, nascent disability advocacy and protest groups took the cause to the American people forming the basis of the contemporary disability rights movement. Drawing on extensive archival material, Pettinicchio redefines the relationship between grassroots advocacy and institutional politics, revealing a cycle of progress and backlash embedded in the American political system.

About the author

David Pettinicchio is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto and affiliated faculty in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

"David Pettinicchio explains the odd but important development of disability politics and policy in the context of changing political alliances and definitions of civil rights. It's a compelling story, with lessons for advocates, policy makers, and anyone who wants to understand either group."

—David S. Meyer, University of California, Irvine

"David Pettinicchio has written a broad and ambitious study of the evolution of American disability policy and disability rights, incorporating changing policy approaches, governmental institutions, and social movement activities into his account. Drawing on legislative documents, policy debates, and sociological concepts, the book situates disability within broader social policy frameworks and political trends. It will be of interest to anyone seeking to understand the interplay of disability policies, politics, and rights within the context of American policy-making."

—Richard K. Scotch, Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, and Political Economy, University of Texas at Dallas

"This excellent addition to the policy feedbacks literature shows how federal policy helped disabled activists become fully mobilized citizens. But progress is not always linear. Recurrent retrenchment efforts mean that the push for civil rights for the disabled is incomplete, and their economic citizenship not yet fully realized. A must-read for those interested in social movements and citizen participation."

—Andrea Louise Campbell, Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, MIT