The Philosophical Foundations of Disability Studies

David Pfeiffer


The deficit model was, at one time, dominant in the study of disability, but not in disability studies. There are three variations of the deficit model: the medical model, the rehabilitation model, and the special education model. But a person with a disability does not have a deficit. Identifying as a person with a disability is an ideological act. There are nine versions of the disability studies paradigm which can be combined into one statement which raises the question of why people with disabilities face oppression. To answer that question the philosophical foundations of Western culture must be examined. When that is done the Greek, Christian, and modern versions of an ontology with an epistemology are found. As we are "socialized" and educated we are given one of these ontologies with its accompanying epistemology. The ontology contains uncritical hypotheses about the world which are stereotypes of all but the power elite. This type of ontology lies at the heart of discrimination based on disability. We must critically examine that ontology and reconstruct it. When we do so we will find that only an experientially based epistemology will be sufficient and that it produces some experientially based knowledge, but mostly inferential knowledge. Life therefore must be lived tentatively. Our research must be guided by a critical spirit.

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Copyright (c) 2002 David Pfeiffer

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)