During the twentieth century, the term “minority” took on new meaning in the contexts of social science scholarship and civil rights campaigns. For disability activists and scholars, defining disabled people as a minority group similar to African Americans, women, and others has been a means to claim civil rights protections, define a more cohesive and empowered group identity, counter the medical model of disability, and advance the scholarship and academic legitimacy of disability studies.

In the early twentieth century, American social scientists developed new definitions of “minority,” borrowing from and expanding upon European uses of the term that referred to national minorities not living in their homeland who faced group discrimination and stereotyping. Although they did not use the term explicitly, by the 1940s many social scientists applied the concept of minority to disabled people. They studied disability as a social phenomenon and compared the stigma and discrimination that disabled …

This essay may be found on page 122 of the printed volume.

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