The social meaning of disability: a reflection on categorisation, stigma and identity
Jan Grue reflects upon the categorisation, stigma and identity connected to disability policy.
As disability becomes an ever more salient concept in international political and legal discourse, its social meaning must be better understood. Traditionally defined in medical terms and as an individual problem, it has for the last several decades increasingly become a socio-politically defined phenomenon. Disability pride has emerged as a social movement patterned after ethnic minority and sexual orientation movements. The one billion people who count as disabled nevertheless have illnesses and impairments that are largely understood as medical problems. Medicine continues to exert great influence on the social meaning of disability in general and the social valuation of various illnesses and impairments in particular. Whereas specific conditions may be socially valued, the overall category and label of disability connotes marginality and stigma. Under these conditions, disability policy, which ought to be a universal concern, risks being construed as a marginal and special-interest issue rather than a broadly relevant topic; this has potentially negative consequences for the majority of disabled people.