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“What we owe to each other” is a question that consumed the philosopher T. M. Scanlon, and more recently has been the focus of the popular sitcom The Good Place. This question can be framed very broadly: how does each individual in society interact with everyone else? This question can also be the launching point for a narrower inquiry: in light of unique circumstances, what does society owe its members, such as disabled individuals? Even more specifically, how do we translate what is “owed” disabled individuals into a regulatory regime that can carry out these obligations? The question of what is owed is especially important when considering our legal system because, generally, to provide an individual with a right means to impose an obligation on another actor.
The relationship between individuals with disabilities and their medical providers can be especially fraught. One might assume that the medical system, because of its familiarity with people with atypical functioning, would have developed greater than average sensitivity to the concerns and needs of patients with disabilities. The chapters in this section, however, show that the reality is more complicated. The authors document a system that has not yet internalized disability as a “mere difference” and correspondingly reflects some of the most problematic aspects of disability as “bad difference.” Three of the chapters then consider how the application of a different framing of disability would improve the medical system by creating fairer policies, refining the clinician–patient relationship, and even changing the physical landscape of the clinic.
Historically and across societies people with disabilities have been stigmatized and excluded from social opportunities on a variety of culturally specific grounds. In this collection, the authors explore the impact that the philosophical framing of disability can have on public policy questions, in the clinic, in the courtroom, and elsewhere. They examine the implications of this understanding for legal and policy approaches to disability, strategies for allocating and accessing health care, the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, health care rights, and other legal tools designed to address discrimination. This volume should be read by anyone seeking a balanced view of disability and an understanding of the connection between the framing of disability and policies that have a real-world impact on individuals.