The Capability Approach and Disability
Journal of Disability Policy Studies
Year of publication
The definition of disability is of interest to disability policymakers and analysts because it has fundamental implications for eligibility for public programs, for the scope of legislation, and for the way disability prevalence is measured. The purpose of this article is to assess how an approach developed in economics to analyze issues related to the standard of living, the so-called capability approach, may help us understand disability at the conceptual level. The article first summarizes different theoretical models of disability (the medical model, the social model, the Nagi model, and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health of the World Health Organization) and then presents the main components of the capability approach. The capability approach allows researchers to analyze (a) disability at the capability level; (b) potential disability; and, at the functioning level, (c) actual disability. This framework also helps explain how disability may result from three types of factors: the individual’s personal characteristics (e.g., impairment, age, race, gender), the individual’s resources, and the individual’s environment (physical, social, economic, political). The article explores some implications of the capability approach for analyzing the employment and the standard of living of persons with disabilities.