Crippled Justice: The History of Modern Disability Policy in the Workplace


Study of Human Rights: Gustavus Myers Center Outstanding Book Award
Honorable Mention

Crippled Justice, the first comprehensive intellectual history of disability policy in the workplace from World War II to the present, explains why American employers and judges, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, have been so resistant to accommodating the disabled in the workplace. Ruth O’Brien traces the origins of this resistance to the postwar disability policies inspired by physicians and psychoanalysts that were based on the notion that disabled people should accommodate society rather than having society accommodate them.

O’Brien shows how the remnants of postwar cultural values bogged down the rights-oriented policy in the 1970s and how they continue to permeate judicial interpretations of provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In effect, O’Brien argues, these decisions have created a lose/lose situation for the very people the act was meant to protect. Covering developments up to the present, Crippled Justiceis an eye-opening story of government officials and influential experts, and how our legislative and judicial institutions have responded to them.

Editorial Reviews:

“What is immediately apparent about Crippled Justice is that it’s author, Ruth O’Brien, “is a ferocious and insightful researcher of public policy.”  Chloe Atkins, Ragged Edge

“Crippled Justice is an illuminating resource for anyone interested in equity issues and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.”  ISIS: History of Science Society

“In a valuable study of workplace disability as both a political and social issue, O’Brien has performed a service to anyone interested in social justice.” The Nation

O’Brien “does an excellent job of portraying and documenting the political, scientific, and philosophical motivations behind the major disability policies enacted over the past 60 years…” Industrial and Labor Relations Review

O’Brien presents a detailed and complex history that covers the evolution of disability policy and law over the course of the twentieth century. Crippled Justice displays a sophisticated understanding of a variety of relevant disciplines: political science and public policy, the histories of the behavioral and medical sciences, and political history and law.  Journal of Economic History

 Article length review by Michael Ashley Stein, “Disability, Employment Policy, and the Supreme Court,”  Stanford Law Review, 55, No. 2 (Nov., 2002), 607-34.