Most u.s. progressives share the view that the destigmatization of “disability” is a positive thing. Translating that vision into widespread social practice, however, is proving difficult to do. The U.S. mainstream has much to learn from Native American communities, many of which have lived experience with non-stigmatizing approaches to differences in community members’ talents and abilities.

Western knowledge systems establish opposition concepts such as day/night, good/bad, and able/disabled. These dichotomies form the basis of Western social hierarchies by establishing certain identities as superior and others as inferior, and they shape how people with disabilities are defined and treated within Western communities and institutions.

While there is no single, unified Native American culture, language, spirituality, or way of being, it is generally accurate to say that Native American worldviews do not adhere to this same dichotomous logic structure. Instead, they focus on an interrelatedness of...

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