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The foundational faith of disability law is the proposition that we can reduce disability discrimination if we can foster interactions between disabled and nondisabled people. This central faith, which is rooted in contact theory, has encouraged integration of people with and without disabilities, with the expectation that contact will reduce preju­dicial atti­tudes and shift societal norms. However, neither the scholarship nor disa­bility law sufficiently accounts for what this Article calls the “aesthetics of disability,” the proposition that our interaction with dis­ability is medi­ated by an affective process that inclines us to like, dislike, be attracted to, or be repulsed by others on the basis of their appearance. The aesthetics literature introduces a significant complication to uncritical reliance on contact as the theoretical and remedial basis for our inclusive ideal. Contact and engagement with the aesthetics of disability may fail to provide the benefits assumed by contact theory, but more perversely, under certain conditions, they may trigger negative affective responses that may stunt the very normative change sought through antidiscrimination law. This Article proposes a novel theoreti­cal lens to more accurately reflect the complexity of the aesthetic– affective process of discriminatory behavior in the context of disability.


Disability law, discrimination, inequality, aesthetics

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Columbia Law Review

Publication Citation

119 Colum. L. Rev. 895 (2019)