The disability terminology used in the law has evolved significantly over time. This evolution has mirrored various models for treating and perceiving disability in society, from the moral model of disability as a sin to the medical model of disability as a defect to be cured. After witnessing the success of the Civil Rights Movement, disability rights activists began to push for a social model of disability that reframed disability as a condition created by physical and cultural barriers to inclusion rather than as an individual impairment. This activism led to federal legislation mandating both inclusion and inclusive language, but there is still work to do. Lawyers, as members of society with a special responsibility for promoting justice, should implement the social model in their practice of law by utilizing respectful language and confronting their own underlying assumptions about disability. State legislatures should make sure the social model is reflected in their laws by updating disability terminology to reflect the preferred language of the disability community. And the Supreme Court should bring the social model into the courtroom by interpreting the definition of disability more broadly to protect a wide range of people and better align with congressional intent.
Meg E. Ziegler, Disabling Language: Why Legal Terminology Should Comport with a Social Model of Disability, 61 B.C.L. Rev. 1183 (2020), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol61/iss3/8