Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
‘Disability’ does not feature among the keywords originally selected by Raymond Williams, but it is included as one of the terms for New Keywords in 2005. In the more recent collection, ‘disability’ is not only included as a discrete entry (Berubé 2005), but also features prominently in the discussion of ‘mobility’, where there is recognition that ‘the “differently abled” have become an increasingly vocal group who argue that better social policies would allow them greater mobility’ (Berland 2005, 218). The increasing recognition of ‘disability’ as a keyword in its own right is reflected in the publication of Keywords for Disability Studies (Adams et al. 2015). The term ‘disabled’ has existed in English since the late sixteenth century, often in its initial usage to refer to ships, meaning ‘incapacitated’ or ‘taken out of service’. Although it was used to refer to physical or mental conditions that limit movement, sensation or other physical capabilities from the same period, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that ‘disabled’ acquired its now standard meaning in the second half of the twentieth century, not least as its implications were recognized in legislation.
Given the emphasis of much travel writing on the body, physical exploits and access to remote locations (Forsdick 2015a), it might be argued that the genre has long manifested implicit disablist tendencies, marginalizing or even excluding those whose physical mobility is limited or whose sensory capacities are impaired. Recent evidence of a romanticized insistence on walking as an exemplary form of authentic, environmentally friendly, quintessentially human mobility has, it might be argued, potentially devalorizing implications for those who are confined to a wheelchair or rely on prosthetics for movement, and who do not, as a result, conform to a normative sense of able-bodiedness. While such patterns of exclusion might be evident in numerous travelogues (as well as in the criticism devoted to them), there is growing awareness that the failure to link studies in travel writing to disability studies represents a significant missed disciplinary rendezvous – and that there is in fact a substantial corpus of journey narratives, both past and present, produced by travellers with a variety of physical and sensory impairments (see also hearing and vision).