Etymologically, the prefix dis- suggests lack and reversal: a dis_ingenuous person lacks sincerity. Where the noun _ability indicates the state of “being capable of doing,” disability implies “inability, incapacity,” or “weakness” (OED). The prefix dis- indicates a kind of undoing. For many people, being disabled means an undoing of the body’s whole, originary state, making any illness, age, or injury that moves the body away from its supposed normality undesirable. Conflating disability with illness, the “medical model” assumes individual or pathologized responsibility for corporeal difference and seeks to “cure” any such differences. In contrast, the “social model” looks to environmental barriers that exclude physically, cognitively, and developmentally disabled people. Historically, disability has indicated “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities” (OED; my emphasis)—a disadvantage whether because of birth or accident or imposed by social law.

This essay may be found on page 60 of the printed volume.

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