Defining Disability

Disability is unpopular topic of discussion in many of the civilized contemporary societies. One of the reasons why it is a not so popular topic is because of the stigmatization that disabled people are presumably exposed to. Hence, discussing their conditions may be interpreted to mean a disconcerted approach to an issue that has been considered a taboo for a long period. However, that only enhances the continuation of the stigma against some disabled people. An open forum towards the topic is likely to bring up underground issues never addressed before and which continues to hinder people with disabilities from reaching their potential. This paper addresses a number of issues relating to the definition of disability and different approaches to the issues.

It is agreeable that the defining disability is a toll task nowadays simply because of the stigmas attached to some conditions. The characteristics exhibited by people that can be said to have a form of disability are as many as the people themselves are. Evidently, there is a lack of an universally accepted measure of what constitutes a disability. This paper describes a number of issues related to the definition of disability.

Stories involving deformities of human being and animals in most of the early cultural society’s including the Greeks abound in large proportion. The interpretation of disability exhibited by an animal or a human being in such communities had a special approach depending on the kind of deformity. However, in most cultures, disability was associated with bad omen because of beastly act. On the other hand, the occurrence of freaks or monstrous was interpreted as a form of divination, foreboding and a manifestation of God’s wrath against a certain sin. For instance, gigantic persons signified a future attack to the community by giants. While in some cultures disability was seen as form of glorification to God, this practice was remote and rare. Medical interpretation of disability points to genetic hereditary factors that are responsible for many freaks. Medically, some freaks are considered a result of embryological or historical conditions that hinder or alter fetal development. This results into such conditions as conjoined twins and hermaphrodites (Grosz, 2009). For instance, medically dwarfism as a form of disability is caused by tumors in the pituitary glands.

Each of the three authors has given different definition of disability. Baynton (2001) defines disability in terms of the physical, psychological flaws, deficits and deviations from what is considered normal in the male circles. According to him, disability is broadly defined in terms of the mental, emotional and physical flaws. Elizabeth Grosz (2009) on the other hand, defines disability in relation to the ambiguity or curiosity attached to certain body formation while Grosz defines disability as the most severe and gross physical disorders afflicting those human beings who have coarsely been categorized as: “freaks”, “curiosities”, “prodigies” and “monstrosities”. In most of this formation, these people are poor and suffering and harbors observable distorted figures, disturbing bodily disorders and sometimes stunted limbs. On the other side, Bogdan (1998) defines disability as a form of physical anomaly that makes some people to be seen as being unusual by others in the same society. He notes that this physical anomaly can result from being born with a deformation as well as the artificial making of body deformation through tattoos or other forms of bodily marks.

The three authors approached disability within the context of their subject matter. For instance, Baynton (2001) looks at disability in terms of gender inequality and women suffrage and how this has come to influence the political and social space reserved for women who were considered disabled for a long period. On the other hand, Grosz (2009) and Bogdan (1998) approach disability from a social point of view and try to evaluate the exploitative nature that people with disabilities were exposed to during early 18th century. The two use similar terms such as: freaks, abnormal, armless and legless, giants and dwarfism while describing different views of disability among the society members.

Baynton seems to have fronted a different argument from that of the other two scholars. He (2001) argues that inequality against minority groups and women in various societies has been perpetuated by the notion that women together with minority groups are naturally disabled. That is, they cannot perform certain tasks in the society. On the other hand, Grosz (2009) and Bogdan (1998) argue that the status of some disabled people has, in certain cases, been used fraudulently as a commercial venture. This normally happens when the disabled people are used as merchandisable objects.


In conclusion, the three authors’ present scholarly arguments on the case of disability in a contemporary society. They point to the need to consider how historical events may be useful in inculcating the rights of disable people in the social system.

Order now

Related essays