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Sustainability 2013, 5(11), 4889-4907; doi:10.3390/su5114889

Social Sustainability and Its Indicators through a Disability Studies and an Ability Studies Lens

1,*  and 2
1 Faculty of Medicine, Department of Community Health Sciences, Stream of Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N4N1, Canada 2 Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T2N4N1, Canada
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 1 September 2013 / Revised: 29 October 2013 / Accepted: 11 November 2013 / Published: 14 November 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Sustainability: Theory, Practice, Problems and Prospects)
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The present journal recently stated in the call for a special issue on social sustainability, “[t]hough sustainable development is said to rest on ‘three pillars’, one of these—social sustainability—has received significantly less attention than its bio-physical environmental and economic counterparts”. The current issue promises to engage the concepts of “development sustainability”, “bridge sustainability” and “maintenance sustainability” and the tensions between these different aspects of social sustainability. The aim of the present study is to identify the visibility of disabled people in the academic social sustainability literature, to ascertain the impact and promises of social sustainability indicators put forward in the same literature and to engage especially with the concepts of “development sustainability”, “bridge sustainability” and “maintenance sustainability” through disability studies and ability studies lenses. We report that disabled people are barely covered in the academic social sustainability literature; of the 5165 academic articles investigated only 26 had content related to disabled people and social sustainability. We also conclude that social sustainability indicators evident in the 1909 academic articles with the phrase “social sustainability” in the abstract mostly focused on products and did not reflect yet the goals outlined in the “development sustainability” aspect of social sustainability proposed by Vallance such as basic needs, building social capital, justice and so on. We posit that if the focus within the social sustainability discourse shifts more toward the social that an active presence of disabled people in this discourse is essential to disabled people. We showcase the utility of an ability studies lens to further the development and application of the “development sustainability”, “bridge sustainability” and “maintenance sustainability” concepts. We outline how different ability expectations intrinsic to certain schools of thought of how to deal with human-nature relationships (for example anthropocentric versus bio/ecocentric) impact this relationship and “bridge sustainability”. As to “maintenance development”, we posit that no engagement has happened yet with the ability expectation conflicts between able-bodied and disabled people, or for that matter with the ability expectation differences between different able-bodied groups within social sustainability discourses; an analysis essential for the maintenance of development. In general, we argue that there is a need to generate ability expectation conflict maps and ability expectations conflict resolution mechanisms for all sustainable development discourses individually and for ability conflicts between sustainable development discourses.
Keywords: social sustainability; disabled people; people with disabilities; disability studies; indicators; social determinants of health; ability studies social sustainability; disabled people; people with disabilities; disability studies; indicators; social determinants of health; ability studies
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Wolbring, G.; Rybchinski, T. Social Sustainability and Its Indicators through a Disability Studies and an Ability Studies Lens. Sustainability 2013, 5, 4889-4907.

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