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Imagining better worlds can help us improve our own, but literary and cinematic utopias often exclude those who don’t fit into what are usually racially and culturally homogeneous societies. And whether it’s 1516 or 2016, utopian thinkers are especially prone to leaving out one group whose experiences and insights should enrich our dreams of the future: the disability community.

For centuries, utopias have presented disability as a personal shortcoming to be remedied, not as an identity to be supported and celebrated. A disability in a utopia is socially undesirable—a cause of suffering that does not belong in a place where wholeness of body and spirit is prized. The disability community, however, has a very different view of itself. And understanding what a more inclusive utopia entails shouldn’t just inform attitudes about what constitutes an ideal society; it should shape the way communities approach disability in the real world.

The exclusion of disability from utopias reflects long-standing social attitudes. Throughout much of Western history, disabled people were sequestered, either in institutions or at home. Disability wasn’t a topic of discussion in... see more