Sunday, April 25, 2010

Difference and Ability

The Ugly Laws

A person with an obvious disability making his way along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in December 1970 would not simply have been enjoying the spectacle of one of the nation’s busiest commercial venues at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Whether he knew it or not, he also would have been engaged in an act of civil disobedience. On the books of the Chicago Municipal Code at that time was an ordinance colloquially known as “The Ugly Law.” It provided that:

“No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.” 2

Similar laws could be found on the books in cities such as Columbus, Ohio,3 and Omaha, Nebraska.4 They were not repealed until around 1973 or 1974. 5

The above was taken from a lecture given by M. Cathleen Kaveny, J.D.,
(Associate Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame) at Loyola University of New Orleans on April 13, 2005.

"Individuals with disabilities are a discrete and insular minority who have been faced with restrictions and limitations, subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment, and relegated to a position of political powerlessness in our society, based on characteristics that are beyond the control of such individuals and resulting from stereotypic assumptions not truly indicative of the individual ability of such individuals to participate in, and contribute to, society."

-Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990


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