With their understanding of human behavior and research training, psychologists are in a unique position to address the challenges and opportunities for including disability issues into a wide variety of legislative initiatives.
In fact, psychology has been at the forefront of numerous efforts to alter psychological and sociological mechanisms to integrate individuals with disabilities into the mainstream and has been a staunch supporter of the early disability-rights movement with its recognition of community participation and involvement, capacity building, empowerment and community control. Psychological research has helped to demonstrate the pervasive nature of stigma associated with disabilities and the adverse mental health effects of discrimination. Psychologists have also supported arguments for the elimination of barriers so that people with disabilities can share the same social and legal rights and responsibilities as people without disabilities.
Today, psychologists' input on disabilities issues is needed more than ever. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is almost universally known as the foremost piece of disability legislation-and it is an exceptional law-it is only one of many laws affecting disability policy. Disability issues cannot be effectively advocated for in a single bill, and unfortunately there is no coordinated strategy for incorporating disability throughout the public policy system.
One of the most common misconceptions is that disability policy is often synonymous with health-care policy. However, just as disability may affect any individual from any socioeconomic, racial or ethnic background at any point in their life, disability can be addressed in a wide range of legislation. For example, disability can be a visible element in anti-discrimination legislation. Disability can also be included in other legislation, such as in early intervention in education, employment programs, access to mental health care, recreation initiatives and asset development plans.
For more information on disability policy issues or how you can get involved, contact me at e-mail or (202) 336-6061.
For a comprehensive overview of all Public Interest government relations issues, visit APA's Government Relations.
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