Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 1135–1149 | Cite as

Understanding disability civil rights non-categorically: The Minority Body and the Americans with disabilities act

  • Leslie FrancisEmail author


A persistent paradox apparently infects disability civil rights claims. On the one hand, these rights claims are often understood to apply only to those who are sufficiently impaired in body or in mind to qualify for them because of the disadvantage they endure. On the other hand, asserting significant impairments threatens to undermine the plausibility of these claims as civil rights rather than as welfare for those who are dependent and in need of extra help. Behind this paradox lies a type of categorical understanding of disability civil rights: that disability civil rights are only for those who fall into a category of disability and that this category should be defined in a particular way, in terms of disadvantaging disablement. In this article, I dispel this paradox by deploying a critical analysis of Elizabeth Barnes’s account of physical disability in her recent book, The Minority Body (2016). In her book, Barnes makes the important critical point that disability is not “bad” difference. Instead, she argues that physical disability is a physical condition that the disability rights community is working to promote justice for. I argue that this account fails as a project of ameliorative social metaphysics because it fails to understand the role of impairment in the construction of disability antidiscrimination law. I also argue that her account risks privileging physical disability and is thus problematic as a starting place for examining disability justice.


Disability Civil rights Americans with disabilities act Justice Impairment 




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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Salt Lake CityUSA

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