The Disability Pendulum

The First Decade of the Americans With Disabilities Act

245 pages

17 illustrations

March, 2007

ISBN: 9780814716809



Also available in


LawDisability Studies

Part of the Critical America series


Ruth Colker is Distinguished University Professor and the Heck-Faust Memorial Chair in Constitutional Law at the Michael E. Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University. She is the author of Hybrid, The Disability Pendulum, and American Law in the Age of Hypercapitalism, all available from NYU Press.

All books by Ruth Colker

Signed into law in July 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became effective two years later, and court decisions about the law began to multiply in the middle of the decade. In The Disability Pendulum, Ruth Colker presents the first legislative history of the enactment of the ADA in Congress and analyzes the first decade of judicial decisions under the act. She assesses the success and failure of the first ten years of litigation under the ADA, focusing on its three major titles: employment, public entities, and public accommodations.

The Disability Pendulum argues that despite an initial atmosphere of bipartisan support with the expectation that the ADA would make a significant difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities, judicial decisions have not been consistent with Congress’ intentions. The courts have operated like a pendulum, at times swinging to a pro-disabled plaintiff and then back again to a pro-defendant stance. Colker, whose work on the ADA has been cited by the Supreme Court, offers insightful and practical suggestions on where to amend the act to make it more effective in defending disability rights, and also explains judicial hostility toward enforcing the act.


  • “Colker's book provides a comprehensive review of the ADA’s history and a thorough analysis of how effective it has been in vindicating the rights of the disabled. She does not paint a pretty picture, but it is an accurate, empirically based assessment.”


  • “[A] comprehensive, factually-supported, and carefully reasoned book in a manner worthy of academic interest. At the same time, [Colker] writes in a plain style free of academic jargon and returns consistently to the human-interest arena of practical ramifications.”

    New York Law Journal

  • “This book is must reading for teachers, school administrators, parents, vocational rehabilitation counselors, disability rights lawyers, and Deaf Community leaders who hope to help take the citizen ship interests of deaf and hard-of-hearing people to the next level. The book helps these constituencies make the essential connections between raising and educating deaf children and the rights and opportunities those children hope to enjoy.”

    Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

  • The Disability Pendulum chronicles societal views and court reactions to the evolving ADA. Ruth Colker shows that public acceptance and inclusion of persons with disabilities into society is as much driven by attitudes about disability as by law and policy themselves. Colker offers an enriched and fresh analysis of the forces affecting the civil rights movement of persons with disabilities in American society.”

    —Peter Blank, Charles M. and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law and Director, Law, Health Policy & Disability Center, University of Iowa College of Law

  • “Ruth Colker’s book is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in disability rights. Colker has long been one of the most astute observers of the development of disability rights in the courts. This book lays out the compelling story of what the ADA was intended to do and what the courts have done to the ADA. The book is both inspiring and sobering.”

    —Chai Feldblum, Georgetown University Law Center