Fear of the Disability Con: Perceptions of Fraud and Special Rights Discourse

Doron Dorfman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


This article presents a new framework for analyzing the development and implementation of disability law: the prism of the fear of “the disability con”—popular perceptions of fraud and fakery. We all encounter disability rights and accommodations in everyday life. However, people with disabilities pay a price for the legal recognition of their rights. People who park in disabled parking spots, use service dogs, move to the front of lines, receive Social Security benefits, or request academic accommodations are often viewed as faking disabilities and abusing the law. This disability con stereotype thus serves as an important invisible barrier preventing Americans with disabilities from fully taking part in society, as it not only undermines the public legitimacy of rights but also restricts the design and implementation of the legal regime illustrating those. Nevertheless, this moral panic around disability con in American society and its manifestations has yet to be studied in a systematic-empirical way, nor has it been addressed in sociolegal scholarship. Using a mixed-methods approach composed of an original nationally representative survey along with in-depth interviews, this article fills this gap. The data suggest that the stereotype of disability con applies to multiple disability rights across venues and contexts; that nearly 60% of Americans with disabilities feel that others question their disability; that the stereotype of disability con extends to visible disabilities and to less apparent ones; and that, counterintuitively, the people most suspicious are nondisabled individuals with a personal connection to a disabled person and disabled people who experience suspicion themselves. Based on the richer understanding of the sociolegal phenomenon, this article suggests strategies to increase trust and reduce suspicion of the disability con.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1051-1091
Number of pages41
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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