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All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3. Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Disability is thus not just a health problem. Disability is a contested concept, with different meanings for different communities. The discussion over disability’s definition arose out of disability activism in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s, which challenged how the medical concept of disability dominated perception and discourse about disabilities.
This section needs additional citations for verification. Enlightenment, physical differences were viewed through a different lens. During the Middle Ages, madness and other conditions were thought to be caused by demons. They were also thought to be part of the natural order, especially during and in the fallout of the Plague, which wrought impairments throughout the general population. 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. 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 eugenics. Disability, as well as other concepts including: abnormal, non-normal, and normalcy came from this. 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. 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 barriers to access were identified. These conditions functionally disabled them, and what is now known as the social model of disability emerged.
Museum of disABILITY History, Buffalo, New York. Different terms have been used for disabled people in different times and places. Handicap has been disparaged as a result of false folk etymology that says it is a reference to begging. It is actually derived from an old game, Hand-i’-cap, in which two players trade possessions and a third, neutral person judges the difference of value between the possessions. People-first language is one way to talk about disability that some people prefer. Using people-first language is said to put the person before the disability, so those individuals who prefer people-first language, prefer to be called, “a person with a disability”. Some people prefer person-first phrasing, while others prefer identity-first phrasing.
The American Psychological Association style guide states that, when identifying a person with a disability, the person’s name or pronoun should come first, and descriptions of the disability should be used so that the disability is identified, but is not modifying the person. However, in the UK, the term “disabled people” is generally preferred to “people with disabilities”. To a certain degree, physical impairments and changing mental states are almost ubiquitously experienced by people as they age. Aging populations are often stigmatized for having a high prevalence of disability. But little attention has been given to the imbrication of aging and disability.