Prolegomena to a theory of disability, inability and handicap

Underlying the political activism that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was what Ron Amundson has called the environmental conception of disability[1]. In [7] we called this the circumstantial conception of disability and handicap, and contrasted it with the intrinsic conception. We use disability to mean loss of a function, such as moving the hands or seeing, that is part of the standard repertoire for humans. Handicap is a species of inability, in particular, the inability to do something that one wants to do and most others around one can do.1 The intrinsic conception imagines a tight connection between disability and handicap; the circumstantial conception loosens and relativizes that connection. The circumstantial conception reminds us that we all depend on various tools and structures—in particular, on cultural artifacts—to enable us to do what we want to do. In many cases it is the design of these tools and structures that prevents a disabled person from accomplishing what they want, rather than anything intrinsically connected to the disability. For example, very few people..
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