Disability studies scholars recognize that the term “ability” shapes our understanding of what it means to have a livable life. Although it is often treated as the antithesis of “disability,” ability has been used as a conceptual sledgehammer to determine and shape social status and caste on both an individual and a collective level. In effect, “ability” employs a judgment that establishes standards of body and mind that are actionable in the present or in projected futures.

Today ability and disability are conjoined as a simple binary. In the past, the relationship was more fluid. Aristotle viewed “monstrous” bodies as natural anomalia (Greek for “irregularities” or “unevenness”), that represented different types of “ability.” Since the late 1300s, “ability” has signified a quality in a person that makes an action possible; in turn, someone who can execute an expected range of actions is able-bodied, a person who can lead a potentially …

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