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What does the term “disability” mean today? For many it is a highly negative label that they do not accept. In recent years, it has become associated with unemployment and dependence on benefits. But how were people we now call disabled treated in earlier societies?

This book examines the origins and development of disability and highlights the hidden history of groups such as disabled war veterans, deaf people and those in mental distress.In a wide-ranging critique, Roddy Slorach describes how capitalist society segregates and marginalises disabled people, turning our minds and bodies into commodities and generating new impairment and disability as it does so.

He argues that Marxism not only helps provide a fuller understanding of the politics and nature of disability, but also offers a vision of how disabled people can play a part in building a better world for all


“This is a book that anyone with an interest in disability should read. It is up to date and covers all the important issues. It is an important addition to the disability literature.”Mike Oliver, Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies and author, The Politics of Disablement

“Whether you are new to the issues or have been around disability politics for a while, this book is essential reading… It offers knowledge, hope, and a solid foundation for generations of disability activists and writers to come.” Debbie Jolly, co-founder of DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) 

Roddy’s book challenges assumptions about disability, which is arguably socially created, versus impairment. I want my students to think about this and to be informed about disability. I don’t want them to deliver interventions without understanding and, above all, I want them to learn from the authentic voices of disabled people. Roddy’s book does all this and will certainly be on my reading lists.” Professor Nicola Martin, Head of Research and Postgraduate Courses, Department of Education, London South Bank University

Neoliberal politicians have redefined disabled people to attack, demean and impoverish them as part of their attack on the welfare state and collectivity. This book offers an effective critique from the left that challenges this. It provides an alternative vision of how such historic and cruel discrimination may be overcome and all of us included on equal terms in society.” Professor Peter Beresford, author and co-chair, Shaping Our Lives, the disabled people’s and service users’ organisation.

“Slorach’s groundbreaking and accessible book will demonstrate the relevance of a Marxist understanding of disability to a whole new generation of disability activists.”Iain Ferguson, co-founder of the Social Work Action Network

Roddy Slorach brings together many disparate parts of the disability experience. His book explains that disabled people’s status in society is not attributable to our impairments, which are part of the human condition. Rather, this socially created oppression is linked directly to the marketisation and commodification of the world that is a consequence of late capitalism. All those interested in disability history will benefit from reading this Marxist analysis of our position in society in the past and now as a precursor to developing our equitable treatment in the future.” Richard Rieser, Co-ordinator UK Disability History Month