Towards an Economic Theory of Disability

Disabled were in many cultures historically subjected to infanticide and medieval Christianity viewed disabled people as punished by God. Later conceptions of disability are those of an economic burden, a charitable cause and more recently as emancipatory subjects with economic rights. What I would like to instead suggest is a vision of disabled people as an economic resource. I would of course not argue that every human being is able to work gainfully but rather that those who are able to do so should do so irrespective of membership in social/biological categories. The welfare state must fully support those who cannot support themselves but it is a critical economic imperative to bring more people into the labor market whether by making the system of education more time-effective and thus bringing young people earlier into the labor market, replacing old age pension with disability pension or facilitating the entry of far more disabled people into the labor market.

Many executives are aware of the fact that employees who are unhappy and unsatisfied in their jobs severely underperform, yet they make up a significant percentage of the workforce in therefore causing significant harm to the national economy. Nevertheless, the reality is that those disgruntled employees could be happy and satisfied and therefore far more productive employees in different job positions. This tells us something about how dysfunctional our labor market is.

Managers tend to believe that wheelchair-powered people do not only have non-functional legs but also non-functional brains. This is the typical perception of disabled people and this must change. It has become standard procedure to “diagnose” the dysfunctions of disabled people but no branch of the government has taken upon itself to “diagnose” the latent abilities of disabled people. In fact disabled people are formally defined negatively by what they cannot do, when in fact the economic imperative dictates mapping what it is that they can do. This needs to be done systematically by a special government agency tasked with integrating disabled people, not as an act of kindness but as an economic imperative. Indeed, no longer can we afford that the right person is found in the wrong place.

This needs to be done systematically and scientifically. With regard to autistic and ADHD people is it necessary to scientifically map autistic/ADHD superpowers (strong sides) in existence in the autistic and ADHD populations before mapping autistic/ADHD superpowers in all autistic and ADHD individuals. These superpowers are highly valuable for the economy and are a mostly untapped human resource.

Big Tech (and not just Meta) are counting on the coming of the age of the mega-market of the metaverse within the foreseeable future. This will afford innumerable work opportunities for disabled people. People will provide highly specialized services to clients and employers through their VR headsets from the comfort of their homes. The introduction of the metaverse means that it will become realistic to bring nearly all disabled people into gainful work. All offices, much of health care, all of education above a certain level of psychological maturity and nearly all commerce will inhabit the metaverse, not to mention the current internet. The metaverse will no doubt bring tremendous opportunities and infinite innovation and this will also provide limitless opportunities for disabled people.

Once society changes its perception of disabled people from human burden to human resource will it also become economically logical to make functional adjustments for the economic integration of disabled people.