The Disability Pendulum: The First Decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Disability Pendulum: The First Decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Disability Pendulum: The First Decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Disability Pendulum: The First Decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act


"Patrolling the neighborhoods of central Fort Worth, sorting through trash piles, exploring dumpsters, scanning the streets and the gutters for items lost or discarded, I gathered the city's degraded bounty, then returned home to sort and catalogue the take."
- From the Introduction

In December of 2001 Jeff Ferrell quit his job as tenured professor, moved back to his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, and, with a place to live but no real income, began an eight-month odyssey of essentially living off of the street. Empire of Scrounge tells the story of this unusual journey into the often illicit worlds of scrounging, recycling, and second-hand living. Existing as a dumpster diver and trash picker, Ferrell adopted a way of life that was both field research and free-form survival. Riding around on his scrounged BMX bicycle, Ferrell investigated the million-dollar mansions, working-class neighborhoods, middle class suburbs, industrial and commercial strips, and the large downtown area, where he found countless discarded treasures, from unopened presents and new clothes to scrap metal and even food.

Richly illustrated throughout, Empire of Scrounge is both a personal journey and a larger tale about the changing values of American society. Perhaps nowhere else do the fault lines of inequality get reflected so clearly than at the curbside trash can, where one person's garbage often becomes another's bounty. Throughout this engaging narrative, full of a colorful cast of characters, from the mansion living suburbanites to the junk haulers themselves, Ferrell makes a persuasive argument about the dangers of over-consumption. With landfills overflowing, today's highly disposable culture produces more trash than ever before- and yet the urge to consume seems limitless.

In the end, while picking through the city's trash was often dirty and unpleasant work, unearthing other people's discards proved to be unquestionably illuminating. After all, what we throw away says more about us than what we keep.


I began writing this book after reading Ruth Shalit's 1997 article in the New Republic on the Americans with Disabilities Act. That article reported that the ADA and other disability statutes have created a “lifelong buffet of perks, special breaks and procedural protections” for individuals with questionable disabilities. Soon thereafter, Reader's Di- gest and the Wall Street Journal printed articles with similar assertions. Those assertions were contrary to my sense of the development of the ADA, but before long I found that there was little or no empirical research available to assess that claim.

I soon devoted myself to trying to collect empirical data on judicial decisions under the ADA. Although it was difficult to collect accurate trial court data, I was able to conclude that appellate judicial decisions were overwhelmingly prodefendant. Although the national media had been reporting that decisions under the ADA were proplaintiff, I was happy to see a receptivity to my findings in the national media. National Public Radio and other media outlets were kind enough to share my research with the general public. In this book, I seek to make research on all three major titles of the ADA available to the public. I hope this work will be useful to the growing disability studies field as well as to individuals who simply want to become more educated on the success and failures of the first decade of judicial enforcement of the ADA.

The story of the first decade of enforcement of the ADA has been one of massive disappointment for the disability rights community. The courts have interpreted the definition of disability narrowly, making it difficult for individuals to be both “disabled” and “qualified” to bring successful ADA lawsuits. The courts have also interpreted the constitutional scope of the ADA so narrowly that it is very difficult for private individuals to bring suits against state actors unless they can allege a constitutional deprivation of due process. The accommodation title, which . . .

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