Handicapped has been cancelled: The terminology and logics of disability in cultural heritage institutions


  • Brian M. Watson
  • Beck Schaefer




This paper originated from a collaborative effort between an academic and archivist and a cataloger to address the issues around the LCSH heading “Social disabilities.” In it, we examine various aspects and consequences resulting from the ways that galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and special collections (GLAMS) organize knowledge about disability and disabled users. We do this primarily through the lens of documentary analysis of cataloging and classification systems as this process, elsewhere called “the power to name” (Olson, 2002), as it is the basis for the operation of GLAMS. First, we will provide an outline and contextual information about the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), the largest and most influential subject heading vocabulary system in the world. Next, we will examine the discourse around disability in library and information science via the results of a literature review. Next, we will examine the history, transformations, use, and meaning behind the LCSH heading “Social disabilities,” as an example of breakdown in terminology. Finally, and unique to the literature, we will propose an alternative hierarchy of terms for the Persons hierarchy in LCSH and discuss other methods that catalogers may use for organizing holdings about disability.



2023-01-16 — Updated on 2023-02-07


How to Cite

Watson, B. M., & Schaefer, B. (2023). Handicapped has been cancelled: The terminology and logics of disability in cultural heritage institutions. First Monday, 28(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v28i1.12898 (Original work published January 16, 2023)



1. Through quantification, measurement, and categorization, information systems often intensify both the surveillance and erasure of disabled people