Open Access

Disabled People in Play.Toward an Existential and Differential Phenomenology of Moving with Dis-Ease


Disability has become an increasingly important field of investment for modern welfare policy-visible in architecture for wheelchair users as well as in budgets for health care. This documents a gain in solidarity, but it implies also some challenges of practical and philosophical character. Play and games (of, for, and with disabled people) make these challenges bodily. These challenges will here be explored in three steps.

In the first step, we discover the paradoxes of equality and categorization, normalization and deviance in the understanding of disability. Ableism, a negative view on disability, is just around the corner. The Paralympic sports for disabled people make this visible. However, play with disabled people shows alternative ways. And it calls to our attention how little we know, so far, about how disabled people play.

The second step leads to an existential phenomenology of disablement. Sport and play make visible to what degree the building of “handicap” is a cultural achievement. All human beings are born disabled and finally die disabled-and inbetween they create hindrances to make life dis-eased. Dis-ease is a human condition.

However, and this is an important third step, disablement and dis-eased life are not just one, but highly differentiated. These differences are relevant for political practice and have to be recognized. Attention to differences opens up a differential phenomenology of disablement and of disabled people in play-as a basis for politics of recognition.