Monday, May 5, 2008

Sad loss of significant Disability Studies scholar/activist, Harlan Hahn

USC political scientist and
Disability Studies scholar
Harlan Hahn

Scholar and disability activist Harlan D. Hahn, leading authority on disability rights and a faculty member at the University of Southern California (USC) for 35 years, died April 23, according to a USC press release. He was 68.

Hahn, a professor of political science specializing in American and urban politics, wrote many of the seminal works in the growing field of Disability Studies.

“Harlan Hahn’s death is an enormous loss because of his international reputation on disability research and his activism,” said Ann Crigler, chair and professor of political science in the College. “He was also a very well-known researcher in American and urban politics in general. He was one of our department’s most prolific, highly cited and distinguished professors.”

Hahn wrote more than a dozen books, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Ghetto Revolts: The Politics of Violence in American Cities (The Macmillan Co., 1973), Disabled Persons and Earthquake Hazards (University of Colorado Institute of Behavioral Science, 1988) and Urban America and Its Police: From the Postcolonial Era Through the 1960s (The University Press of Colorado, 2003). He was working on his memoir at the time of his death.

In the early 1980s, Hahn and junior faculty members developed the university’s first disability studies program.

At that time Hahn also was involved in a famous right-to-die case in which quadriplegic Elizabeth Bouvia had sued a California hospital for refusing her request to starve to death. Hahn filed an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court, arguing against the woman’s desire to die and urging society to better support people with disabilities. Bouvia eventually lost the case and later decided she wanted to live.

“I recognized that what Harlan was doing was exciting and important,” said Gelya Frank, professor of anthropology at USC and professor of occupational science and occupational therapy. “He was on the front lines of the shift in political thinking about the disabled. Rather than disability as a private medical matter, he believed in treating the disabled as a minority group that deserved rights.”

Hahn advocated for the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibiting discrimination based on disabilities at any place that receives federal funding, and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, a wider-ranging civil rights law prohibiting disability discrimination in all aspects of life, according to the USC release.

“We wouldn’t have these laws without people like Harlan,” Frank said. “We have to see Harlan Hahn as one of the major figures in the disability rights movement.”

Here's a listing of some of Harlan Hahn's most important Disability Studies articles, in my opinion:

  • Hahn, H. (1988). The politics of physical differentness: Disability and discrimination. Journal of Social Issues, 44:1, pp. 39-47.
  • Hahn, H. (1988). Can disability be beautiful? Social Policy, 18:3, pp. 26-32.
  • Hahn, H. (1987). Civil rights for disabled Americans: The foundation of a political agenda. In A. Gartner and T. Joe (Eds.), Images of the Disabled, Disabling Images. New York: Praeger.
  • Hahn, H. (1987, March). Advertising the acceptable employable image: Disability and capitalism. Policy Studies Journal, pp. 551-570.
  • Hahn, H. (1985) Introduction: Disability Policy and the Problem of Discrimination. American Behavioral Scientist, 28, 293-318.
  • Hahn, H. (1985) Toward a Politics of Disability Definitions, Disciplines and Policies. Social Science Journal, 22(4), 87-105.