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According to the World Health Organization, a disability is a restriction or lack of ability to perform an action within the normal range of human ability. Under U.S. law, a person with a disability is "Any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment."[1] A person who discriminates against handicapped people is called an ablecentrist.[2]

Disabilities are not always apparent, nor are they always physical. Many kinds of emotional disturbances and mental issues have been ruled to be disabilities. Moreover, some long-term medical issues, such as emphysema, can cause one to become disabled.

In many traditional societies, those with disabilities were often held to posess supernatural abilities. Since the Industrial Revolution, those with disabilities have been, at best, pitied, and at worst discriminated against or killed. For a long time, people with recognizable disabilities have been relegated to beggardom, even if they were still capable of performing work. Eugenics has been particularly interested in eliminating mental disabilities in society through forced sterilization.[3] In Nazi Germany, the mentally disabled were victims of the Holocaust.


In most of the developed world, it is now illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities unless the disability in question would adversely affect job performance even with reasonable accommodations. Moreover, businesses must now make accommodations for patrons with such disabilities, within reason. However, it is felt within the disabled community that many businesses grossly exaggerate the costs of accommodation in order to get away with continued discrimination.