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date: 14 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The concept of disability is used across a variety of contexts to describe different phenomena and prescribe distinct behaviors or norms. The definitional challenge is not only that the category of “disabled people” is heterogenous, but also that what “disability” should denote, primarily or exclusively, is controversial among both theorists and practitioners. This conceptual breadth is far from innocuous: disability models have the potential to influence public policies, culture, and interactions by suggesting what rights, duties, and social expectations disability entails. Instead of examining those various definitions and arguing in favor of one, this chapter considers the unavoidable cultural polysemy of disability and contrasts the appeal and limitations of the main theoretical strategies to manage it. Some disability models deny that competing understandings of disability are valid, others seek to determine procedures through which disabilities will be defined and assessed, and still others conceptualize disability in a more culturally malleable way.

Keywords: disability, models, definitions, culture, polysemy, heterogeneity

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