“What happened to you?” The question from strangers to people with visible impairments suggests a popular fixation on accident as a cause of disability. It is as though the most important thing to know about disability is its genesis (Linton 2005)—perhaps due to anxiety about whether or not “it could happen to me.” This narrow meaning of accident as unforeseen bodily trauma (as compared with illness, congenital trait, or aging) highlights one axis of diversity that both enriches and complicates disability studies.

In a broader and more abstract sense, disability is often relegated to the category of accident: unintentional, undesirable, marginal deviations from idealized norms of fitness. It was not always so. Early conceptions of disability imbued certain bodily differences with religious meaning, as coded signs of divine intent or judgment. In step with the values of industrialization, nonconforming bodies later came to be equated with accident, much like …

This essay may be found on page 17 of the printed volume.

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