What does it mean to be disabled? To answer this question, this dissertation uses Martin Heidegger’s concept of the ‘ontological difference’, the difference between human existence and that of everything else. I argue that a key issue facing disabled people, and thus disability studies, is the administration of the experience of disability via objective categories; to be disabled is to be administered. To make this case, I look to three diverse sites: tax forms, artwork and physical therapy. In each case, the ontological difference becomes manifest. In each case we see ontological
politics at work, where bodies are shaped in particular ways (and not others), where lives are pulled in particular ways (and not others). I suggest we can reformulate disability politics as problems of ontology.
I pursue my argument as follows. I begin by outlining what I call a ‘meta-theoretical pragmatism’, arguing the worth of theory lies in its ability to connect experience in new ways. Secondly, I arrange the dominant theoretical approaches in disability studies as ‘ontological vectors’, which I compare with Heidegger’s phenomenology in the following chapter. In chapters three,
four and five, I examine tax forms, artwork, and physical therapy; in each case we find ontological differentiation, where objective categories shape, and are shaped out of, human experience. In the final chapter I review the worth of these investigations, and outline my future research, a move from existential phenomenology to political economy, using the example of Ontario disability labour supports.