Dismantling the Disability/Handicap Distinction

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 22 (6):589-606 (1997)
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Abstract

This paper discusses the distinction between disability and handicap as it is proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in their publication International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (WHO, 1993 (first published, 1980)). Following criticism of this an attempt to salvage the distinction by Nordenfelt (1993, 1983) is discussed. It is argued that neither the WHO nor Nordenfelt are successful in their attempts to preserve the distinction between disability and handicap in a theoretically wellmotivated manner. Contrary to the WHO, it is argued that what they term ‘disabilities’ and ‘handicaps’ both have external causes. And contrary to Nordenfelt's position it is shown that “basic actions” do not provide a firm theoretical foundation for the concept of disability. Moreover, the criticisms of these two sets of views reveal that attempts to describe the phenomenon of disablement which focus on the individual suffer from a serious methodological shortcoming

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Stephen David Edwards
University of Zululand

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