A disability is an impairment that may be
Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
Disability is a contested concept, with different meanings in different communities. It may be used to refer to physical or mental attributes that some institutions, particularly medicine, view as needing to be fixed (the
The discussion over disability's definition arose out of
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Contemporary understandings of disability derive from concepts that arose during the West's scientific
Contemporary concepts of disability are rooted in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments. Foremost among these was the development of clinical medical discourse, which made the human body visible as a thing to be manipulated, studied, and transformed. These worked in tandem with scientific discourses that sought to classify and categorize and, in so doing, became methods of normalization.
The concept of the "norm" developed in this time period, and is signaled in the work of the
This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid take up of statistics gathering by Britain, United States, and the Western European states during this time period, and it is tied to the rise of
With the rise of eugenics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such deviations were viewed as dangerous to the health of entire populations. With disability viewed as part of a person's biological make-up and thus their genetic inheritance, scientists turned their attention to notions of weeding such "deviations" out of the gene pool. Various metrics for assessing a person's genetic fitness, which were then used to deport, sterilize, or institutionalize those deemed unfit. At the end of the Second World War, with the example of Nazi eugenics, eugenics faded from public discourse, and increasingly disability cohered into a set of attributes that medicine could attend to – whether through augmentation, rehabilitation, or treatment. In both contemporary and modern history, disability was often viewed as a by-product of
In the early 1970s, disability activists began to challenge how society treated disabled people and the medical approach to disability. Due to this work, physical