Skip to main content

Persons with Disabilities

  • Reference work entry
Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology
  • 215 Accesses


The term “persons with disabilities” is open to various interpretations, definitions, and uses. This entry addresses the broad question: Who are persons with disabilities, and what is their experience? It has been argued that viewing persons with disabilities as a distinct group despite their widely varying characteristics and conditions is a Western artifact rather than a universal concept spanning variations in time, culture, or geography (Anand, 2009). Therefore, although the construct now is used globally, as evidenced by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN General Assembly, 2006), this entry mostly addresses “persons with disabilities” from a Western perspective, specifically grounded in the USA.


Two broad policy-based definitions useful in understanding both the social and the embodied experience of “persons with disabilities” are the following:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990states that “... the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions


  • Adler, A. (1932). What life should mean to you (chapter 2). London: Unwin Books. Retrieved from

  • American Psychological Association. (2012). About Division 22. Retrieved from the Div 22 Rehabilitation Psychology website:

  • Americans with Disabilities. (1990). Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101–336, 104 Stat. 328.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anand, S. (2009). Delusive discourse: Tracing the conceptual history of disability in India (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (AAT 3394318).

    Google Scholar 

  • Barker, R. G. (1948). The social psychology of physical disability. Journal of Social Issues, 4(4), 28–38.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barnes, C. (2012). The social model of disability: Valuable or irrelevant? In N. Watson, A. Roulstone, & A. C. Thomas (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of disability studies (pp. 12–29). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bayton, D. C. (1996). Forbidden signs: American culture and the campaign against sign language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Braddock, D. L., & Parish, S. L. (2001). An institutional history of disability. In G. L. Albrecht, K. D. Seelman, & M. Bury (Eds.), Handbook of disability studies (pp. 1–68). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brault, M. W. (2012). Americans with disabilities: 2010. Current population reports (pp. 70–131). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elliott, T., & Rath, J. F. (2012). Rehabilitation psychology. In E. Altmaier & J. I. Hanson (Eds.), The oxford handbook of counseling psychology (pp. 679–702). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson, P. M. (2001). Mapping the family: Disability studies and the exploration of parental response to disability. In G. L. Albrecht, K. D. Seelman, & M. Bury (Eds.), Handbook of disability studies (pp. 373–395). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gill, C. J. (1995). A psychological view of disability culture. Disability Studies Quarterly, 15, 16–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gill, C. J. (2001). Divided understandings: The social experience of disability. In G. L. Albrecht, K. D. Seelman, & M. Bury (Eds.), Handbook of disability studies (pp. 351–372). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, L., & Associates. (1986). The International Center for the Disabled survey of disabled Americans: Bringing disabled Americans into the mainstream (Study No. 854009). New York, NY: International Center for the Disabled.

    Google Scholar 

  • Helander, E. (2003). A critical review of the “International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).” Retrieved from,

  • Hughes, B., & Paterson, K. (1997). The social model of disability and the disappearing body: Towards a sociology of impairment. Disability & Society, 12, 325–340.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kevles, D. (1985). In the name of eugenics: Genetics and the uses of human heredity. New York: Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kudlick, C. J. (2003). Disability history: Why we need another other. The American Historical Review, 108(3), 763–793.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Linton, S. (1998). Claiming disability: Knowledge and identity. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Livneh, H., & Antonak, R. F. (Eds.). (1997). Psychosocial adaptation to chronic illness. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lombardo, P. A. (2008). Three generations, no imbeciles: Eugenics, the supreme court, and Buck v. Bell. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Longmore, P. (2003). The second phase: From disability rights to disability culture. In Why I burned my book and other essays on disability (pp. 230–261). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Longmore, P. K., & Umansky, L. (Eds.). (2001). The new disability history: American perspectives. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meekosha, H., & Shuttleworth, R. (2009). What’s so ‘critical’ about critical disability studies? Australian Journal of Human Rights, 15(1), 47–75.

    Google Scholar 

  • Olkin, R. (1999). What psychotherapists should know about disability. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pledger, C. (2003). Discourse on disability and rehabilitation issues: Opportunities for psychology. American Psychologist, 58(4), 279–284.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Prilleltensky, O. (2009). Critical psychology and disability studies: Critiquing the mainstream, critiquing the critique. In D. R. Fox, I. Prilleltensky, & S. Austin (Eds.), Critical psychology: An introduction (2nd ed., pp. 250–266). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Teo, T. (2009). Philosophical concerns in critical psychology. In D. R. Fox, I. Prilleltensky, & S. Austin (Eds.), Critical psychology: An introduction (2nd ed., pp. 36–53). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trent, J. W. (1994). Inventing the feeble mind: A history of mental retardation in the United States. Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trickett, E. J., Watts, R. J., & Birman, D. (Eds.). (1994). Human diversity: Perspectives on people in context. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  • UN General Assembly. (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 13 December 2006, A/RES/61/106, Annex I. Retrieved from the United Nations Enable website:

  • Vaughan, C. E. (2009). People-first language: An unholy crusade. The Braille Monitor, 52(3). Retrieved at

  • Wendell, S. (1996). The rejected body. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • World Health Organization. (2002). Towards a common language for functioning, disability and health: ICF – The international classification of functioning, disability and health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability 2011. Retrieved from the World Health Organization website at

  • Wright, B. A. (1960). Physical disability: A psychological approach. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carol J. Gill .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York

About this entry

Cite this entry

Gill, C.J. (2014). Persons with Disabilities. In: Teo, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology. Springer, New York, NY.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, New York, NY

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4614-5582-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-4614-5583-7

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Behavioral Sciences

Publish with us

Policies and ethics