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J Health Polit Policy Law. 2014 Oct;39(5):1035-66. doi: 10.1215/03616878-2813695. Epub 2014 Jul 18.

What's bad about wellness? What the disability rights perspective offers about the limitations of wellness.

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Independent Scholar.


With great interest, employers in the United States are using wellness programs to reduce insurance costs and monitor the health of their employees. While these programs are often embraced as benign in their assessments and positive in their outcomes, this perspective fails to consider the discriminatory effects on people with disabilities. The case of Seff v. Broward County in 2012 addressed the question of whether wellness programs violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Finding a safe harbor in the ADA for bona fide insurance plans, the court concluded that the initiative did not violate the act, even though employees were penalized monetarily. This article argues that wellness programs institutionalize disability bias and a false perception of health attainability. People with substantial physical or mental impairments will not be able to control many aspects of their health, even with concerted efforts. Embedded in this approach is the notion of responsibility for and control over all aspects of one's health, including disability. This kind of orientation further perpetuates a neoliberal approach to society where autonomy trumps community-based supports and acceptance of differences.

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