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It may be used to refer to physical or mental attributes that some institutions, particularly medicine, view as needing to be fixed (the medical model).It may refer to limitations imposed on people by the constraints of an ableist society (the social model).

This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid take up of statistics gathering by Britain, United States, and the Western European states during this time period, and it is tied to the rise of eugenics.

The discussion over disability's definition arose out of disability activism in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s, which challenged how the medical concept of disability dominated perception and discourse about disabilities.

Debates about proper terminology and their implied politics continue in disability communities and the academic field of disability studies.

Handicap has been disparaged as a result of false folk etymology that says it is a reference to begging.

It is actually derived from an old game, Hand-i'-cap, in which two players trade possessions and a third, neutral person judges the difference of value between the possessions.

With disability viewed as part of a person's biological make-up and thus their genetic inheritance, scientists turned their attention to notions of weeding such "deviations" out of the gene pool.

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