Equity vs. Equality

By Paul Miller, LDO Leadership Team

Boys on boxes as described in the blog representing equality, equity and one labeled liberation where the fence is removed altogetherYou may ask why things are not equal and I would tell you things should not be equal. They should be equitable. Picture three boys wanting to look over a fence. One is tall and does not need any help to see over the fence. The middle size boy can barely see over and the short boy can not see over the fence at all. Someone comes over with three boxes. As they are distributed equally the shortest boy can barely see over the fence, the middle boy can see fine, and the tall boy has an unnecessary, yet enjoyable lift that changes his view. This is equality, but it is not totally helpful. With equity the tallest boy would not get a box, the middle sized boy would get one box and see fine, and the short boy would get two boxes and see just as well as his two friends. Now the boxes are not distributed equally but equitably. This is a fair way to pass out the resources because the outcome is just.  


 In the last century, we have made bold steps toward equality. African Americans got civil rights in the 60’s, and the 70’s gave women Title IX, which started the process of ending gender discrimination in education. People with disabilities achieved accessibility to the community in the 90’s when the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. The ADA helps people with disabilities get out and enjoy the community by taking away barriers to work, requiring businesses to make themselves accessible and making sure government buildings are open to everyone.This gave balance in the law by making things equitable. While everyone going into a movie would not get something to help them hear the movie better or describe what is going on in the background, certain accommodations can be requested for those who need them and these devices help the blind and deaf. This makes their lives equitable. Because their lives are more equitable, the nation is more just and fair.


As leaders in the disability community we know outcomes should be just and fair, so making equitable decisions is the way to go. We know there are people with disabilities in all communities and we are lucky to have what we have. We should know that equitable distribution of food helps those in poverty among other groups. Like the tall boy looking over the fence we should be aware of the needs of others before using a resource. This helps make more of a chance for the resource to be there  for those who need them. The same can be said about accessible spaces in parking lots and other technology. There’s nothing wrong with using what you need, just make sure things are fair and equitable.


As you have read, equity is fair because the distribution of resources is based on need so that the outcome is just. This is different than equality where everyone would get a piece of the pie even if everyone did not need a piece. Equal distribution of goods often provides excess resources to people who do not need them, and thought they might not realize it, they often do not appreciate the excess they have. This causes a lot of waste and others do not get what they require.  When things are equitable, the people who have lack essential resources can get help obtaining them. This is just as true whether it is a legal remedy or a physical necessity like food or access. Do not be fooled by an argument that says equal is just. If that was true no group or accommodation would need to be protected by law and arguments. If equal were just the small boy would be able to see over the fence when each boy was given one box.

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