Beyond (Models of) Disability?

J Med Philos. 2016 Apr;41(2):210-28. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhv063. Epub 2016 Feb 18.


The strategy of developing an ontology or models of disability as a prior step to settling ethical issues regarding disabilities is highly problematic for two reasons. First, key definitional aspects of disability are normative and cannot helpfully be made value-neutral. Second, if we accept that the contested concept of disability is value-laden, it is far from obvious that there are definitive reasons for choosing one interpretation of the concept over another. I conclude that the concept of disability is better left ethically open-ended or broad enough to encompass the examination of various ethical issues (such as oppression, minority rights, or physical discomfort). Alternatively, the concept of disability could be altogether abandoned in order to focus on specific issues without being hindered by debates about the nature of disability. Only political costs, rather than conceptual considerations internal to the models, could be weighed against such a conclusion.

Keywords: disability; essentially contested concept; social model.

MeSH terms

  • Disabled Persons*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Morals
  • Sociology, Medical*