By defining a disability as what a person cannot do - rather than in terms of a specific medical condition or disease - The ADA has tranformed disability into a non-essential, universal, ever-evolving, socially constructed category. Bodies in Revolt analyzes the ADA's potential to make employers take into account the individuality of their employees, showing how an important branch of feminist theory - an ethic of care - could be studied in a new location: the workplace. Also, if Congress amends the ADA, making it less vulnerable to the conservative federal judiciary's discretion, the definition of a disability could be further universalized, offering women a strategy to feminize the workplace. In many places of employment, pregnancy is already treated like an illness or short-term disability, allowing women to take leave with pay. This leave policy, however, does not alter the workplace culture.
By contrast, this project submits that an expansive definition of disability - one that recognizes the organic nature of the human mind and body - could include most women (and many men) and offer them a means of persuing justice in the workplace as they negotiate about work conditions based on concrete considerations of human needs.
Ruth O'Brien is Chair of Political Science at The City University of New York Graduate Center and a Professor of Government at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.