Brain injury, medical progress, and the disability paradox: Towards an Americans with Abilities Act

Joseph J. Fins, Kaiulani S. Shulman, Megan S. Wright, Zachary E. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is helpful to think about the needs of patients with moderate to severe brain injury through the lens of disability law. However, there are limitations to current disability law that contribute to ongoing segregation and marginalization of individuals with severe brain injury. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of American jurisprudence is that more clear constitutional protections accrue to those who have definitively immutable conditions. Thus, as neuroscience brings new therapies to those with brain injury, they may become less protected by the constitutional elements of disability law because their conditions have changed and become mutable. This is the clinical progress that brain injury professionals all seek to achieve, but ironically these advances could potentially degrade the legal protections of patients who benefit from emerging treatments. In this paper, we will critically examine this paradox at the interface of medicine and the law and suggest that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could be nicely complemented by legislation we have named the Americans with Abilities Act (AWAA). Instead of focusing on disabilities that need protection, the AWAA seeks to sustain and foster newfound abilities made possible by the fruits of medicine and neuroscience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-147
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 23 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Neurology

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