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Respecting Embedded Disability

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


In certain ways, many disabilities seem to occupy a middle ground between illnesses like cancer and identity‐traits like race: like illnesses, they can present a wide variety of obstacles in a range of social and natural environments and, insofar as they do, they are something we should prevent potential people from having for their own sake; at the same time, those same types of disabilities can be, like race, a valuable part of the identity of the persons who already have them. I consider this seemingly dual nature of a significant class of disabilities to attempt to understand the proper relation of those disabilities to persons and how we should value or respect them. I argue for a distinction between embedded disabilities (e.g. John's blindness) and general disabilities (e.g. blindness‐in‐general); importantly not everyone with a disability will turn out to have an embedded disability. I then show that expressing negative value judgments about general disabilities does not typically express disrespect for people with disabilities — thereby addressing a long‐standing charge made by many in the disabilities community. Finally, I show that unlike with disabilities, expressing negative judgments about the general form of identity‐traits like race does typically express disrespect for people with those identity‐traits.