The Aesthetics of Disability

78 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2019

See all articles by Jasmine Harris

Jasmine Harris

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Date Written: May 28, 2019


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.

Suggested Citation

Harris, Jasmine, The Aesthetics of Disability (May 28, 2019). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 119, No. 4, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Jasmine Harris (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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