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Abstract

The National Council on Disability (NCD) is a federal agency that connects members of a broad disability community to federal policymakers within the deliberative system (Mansbridge, 2012) that constitutes the disability rights movement in the U.S. In this critical discourse analysis, the author considers the Council's depiction of the deliberative system in its publication Equality of opportunity: The making of the Americans with Disabilities Act (NCD, 2010). Paying particular attention to discourses of unity and difference within this history of the ADA and in NCD’s About Us web pages, the study looks to understand how the Council’s depiction of the disability community and portrayal of its own role within the deliberative system impacts their legitimacy within the disability rights movement. Interrogating the ways in which unity is privileged over diversity in NCD’s history of the ADA shows how the Council exhibits a consensus democratic orientation that presents the disability community as an unwavering force to be reckoned with, positions the National Council on Disability at a position of power within its deliberative system, and highlights the deliberative nature of NCD’s mission. However, the ways in which NCD’s history of the ADA downplays difference in favor of unity sidesteps stakeholder concerns and fails to engage with social difference as a resource for inclusion and collaboration. Further, NCD discourse works to define human worth in terms of work and deliberation in terms of consensus in ways that reinforce stigma around disability and exclude underrepresented groups. The author offers some practical suggestions aimed at helping the Council and other policymakers and leaders in social justice movements to incorporate more pluralist perspectives to address issues of exclusion.

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