Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 1113–1133 | Cite as

On valuing impairment

  • Dana HowardEmail author
  • Sean AasEmail author


In The Minority Body, Elizabeth Barnes rejects prevailing social constructionist accounts of disability for two reasons. First, because they understand disability in terms of oppressive social responses to bodily impairment, they cannot make sense of disability pride. Second, they maintain a problematic distinction between impairment and disability. In response to these challenges, this paper defends a version of the social model of disability, which we call the Social Exclusion Model. On our account, to be disabled is to be in a bodily or psychological state that is represented as an impairment in the prevailing ideology of one’s society, and to be excluded from valuable activities on the basis of this representation. While this model refers to a distinction between disability and impairment, it makes no presuppositions about which bodies function ‘normally’ and which do not. It is the ideology of impairment rather than impairment itself that does any work to determine whether a person is disabled. We argue that this model answers some of the important objections that Barnes raises against prevailing social constructionist accounts of disability, and that it’s focus on the oppressive social positioning of disabled people gives it explanatory power that Barnes’s own account lacks.


Disability Social ontology Impairment Oppression 



Both authors contributed equally to this manuscript. We would like to thank Elizabeth Barnes, Marion Danis, Leslie Francis, Leah Pierson, S. Andrew Schroeder, Robert Steel, Dave Wendler, David Wasserman, and participants at the Pacific APA as well as a workshop at the National Institutes of Health, Clinical Center Department of Bioethics. This project was conducted while one of us (DH) was working at the National Institutes of Health. The views expressed in this paper however are our own and do not represent the position or policy of the NIH, DHHS, or US government.

Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Kennedy Institute of EthicsGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical Education and Anatomy, Center for BioethicsThe Ohio State University College of MedicineColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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