by Sami Schalk

About Sami Schalk

Sami Schalk (she/her) is Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction.


The term disability refers to a wide range of bodymind differences that have accrued a variety of social meanings over time, often with negative associations. I use the term bodymind here after Margaret Price, who defines it as a materialist feminist disability studies concept referring to “the imbrication (not just the combination) of the entities usually called ‘body’ and ‘mind’” (2015, 270). The term bodymind highlights how “mental and physical processes not only affect each other but also give rise to each other” (269), collectively impacting our experiences of ourselves and the world. Discussions of disability include conditions that are physical (like paralysis or amputation), sensory (like blindness or deafness), psychiatric (like depression or schizophrenia), cognitive/intellectual (like Down’s syndrome or autism), and chronic (illnesses and diseases like fibromyalgia or diabetes). Since the early 1990s, however, scholars in disability studies have researched disability as a socially constructed category that cannot be wholly understood through moral or medical models that frame it as a problem to be solved. While disability conceptually overlaps with studies of medicine and health, disability is not the same as health. In disability studies, disability is a social and political category describing bodyminds that depart from the bodily, mental, and/or behavioral norms of a society. Scholars in the field are invested in discovering the history and culture of disabled people as well as how the category of disability has developed and changed over time. Discrimination based on disability is referred to as ableism, while benefits within the (dis)ability system are referred to as ability privilege or able-body/able-mind privilege. Some scholars use terms like (dis)ability, ability/disability, and dis/ability to additionally refer to the overarching social system that determines how bodymind differences are valued or devalued to distinguish this concept from the word disability alone; (dis)ability, ability/disability, and dis/ability, therefore, operate similarly to concepts like gender, race, or sexuality, which also refer to larger systems of privilege and marginalization (Schalk 2018; Garland-Thomson 2002; Goodley 2014). This entry will use (dis)ability to describe the larger social system and disability and ability to describe, respectively, the marginalized and privileged positions within the (dis)ability system.