Kim E. Nielsen

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Kim E. Nielsen is a historian and author who lives in the USA and specializes in disability studies. Since 2012, Nielsen has been a professor of history, disability studies, and women's studies at the University of Toledo. Nielsen originally trained as historian of women and politics, and came to disability history and studies via her discovery of Helen Keller's political life.



A Disability History of the United States (2012)



  • I've learned that disability pushes us to examine ourselves and the difficult questions about the American past. Which peoples and which bodies have been considered fit and appropriate for public life and active citizenship? How have people with disabilities forged their own lives, their own communities, and shaped the United States? How has disability affected law, policy, economics, play, national identity, and daily life? The answers to these questions reveal a tremendous amount about us as a nation.
  • Although people with disabilities share social stigmatization, and sometimes are brought together by common experiences and common goals, their lives and interests have varied widely according to race, class, sexuality, gender, age, ideology, region, and type of disability-physical, cognitive, sensory, and/or psychological.
  • ...disability is often elusive and changing. Not only do people with disabilities have a history, but the concept of disability has a history as well.
  • This book will make clear that people with disabilities have lived and continue to live with disproportionately higher rates of poverty because of specific social structures, ideologies, and practices that hinder their social advancement.
  • Human variability is immense. We see and hear in varying degrees, our limbs are of different lengths and strengths, our minds process information differently, we communicate using different methods and speeds, we move from place to place via diverse methods, and our eye colors are not the same. Some of us can soothe children, some have spiritual insight, and some discern the emotions of others with astounding skill. Which bodily and mental variabilities are considered inconsequential, which are charming, and which are stigmatized, changes over time-and that is the history of disability.
  • As an author I'm careful about the words that I use. Words matter. For example, characterizing someone as "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair" is profoundly different than characterizing them as a "wheelchair user" or "wheelchair rider." The differentiation is not political correctness: it is an entirely different ideological and intellectual framework of comprehension. The contemporary disability-rights movement has understood that redefining and reclaiming language is central to self-direction, just as it has been for feminist; lesbian, gay, queer, and transgender; and racial freedom movements.
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