By Jasmine E. Harris | 64 Am. U. L. Rev. 457 (2015)
This Article argues that the practice of holding so many adjudicative proceedings related to disability in private settings (e.g., guardianship, special education due process, civil commitment, and social security) relative to our strong normative presumption of public access to adjudication may cultivate and perpetuate stigma in contravention of the goals of inclusion and enhanced agency set forth in antidiscrimination laws. Descriptively, the law has a complicated history with disability—initially rendering disability invisible; later, underwriting particular narratives of disability synonymous with incapacity; and, in recent history, promoting the full socio-economic visibility of people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the marquee civil rights legislation for people with disabilities (about to enter its twenty-fifth year), expresses a national approach to disability that recognizes the role of society in its construction, maintenance, and potential remedy. However, the ADA’s mission is incomplete. It has not generated the types of interactions between people with disabilities and nondisabled people empirically shown to deconstruct deeply entrenched social stigma. Prescriptively, procedural design can act as an “antistigma agent” to resist and mitigate disability stigma. This Article focuses on one element of institutional design—public access to adjudication—as a potential tool to construct and disseminate counter-narratives of disability. The unique substantive focus in disability adjudication on questions of agency provides a potential public space for the negotiation of nuanced definitions of disability and capacity more reflective of the human condition.