Disability, Impairment, and Marginalised Functioning

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (4):730-747 (2021)
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One challenge in providing an adequate definition of physical disability is unifying the heterogeneous bodily conditions that count as disabilities. We examine recent proposals by Elizabeth Barnes (2016), and Dana Howard and Sean Aas (2018), and show how this debate has reached an impasse. Barnes’ account struggles to deliver principled unification of the category of disability, whilst Howard and Aas’ account risks inappropriately sidelining the body. We argue that this impasse can be broken using a novel concept: marginalised functioning. Marginalised functioning concerns the relationship between a person’s bodily capacities and their social world: specifically, their ability to function in line with the default norms about how people can typically physically function that influence the structuring of social space. We argue that attending to marginalised functioning allows us to develop, not one, but three different models of disability, all of which—whilst having different strengths and weaknesses—unify the category of disability without sidelining the body.

Author Profiles

Aness Kim Webster
Durham University
Katharine Jenkins
University of Glasgow


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