HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


Nearly 61 million Americans have a disability, making the group the country’s largest minority. Individuals with disabilities cut across race, gender, and sexual orientation. Since people with disabilities are disproportionately older, they have also made up an expanding share of the general population as the U.S. population has aged. Unlike other more fixed identities, any person can become disabled at any time, due to severe injury, illness, trauma, pregnancy, or simply aging. In fact, while only 11% of people under ages 18 to 64 reported having a disability in 2017, 35% of people ages 65 and over reported having one, illustrating the fluid nature of disability status. Disabilities include a range of conditions, both visible and invisible, and including physical, mental, and cognitive impairments—all of which require different types of protection against different types of discrimination. These complexities make understanding and advancing disability rights more challenging. Moreover, people with disabilities continue to face challenges as a result of policies that affect them both directly and indirectly. Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires both reinstating and extending equal protections, and affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society.


Shattuck, John, and Mathias Risse. "Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Disability Rights." Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, January 21, 2021.