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(Re)constructing and (re)habilitating the disabled body: World war one era disability policy and its enduring ramifications

This article examines the emergence of federal rehabilitation and pension programs for disabled soldiers during World War One in Canada. Rehabilitation is the intervention on individuals’ behavior, minds and bodies to bring them closer to social norms and, is frequently viewed as an unproblematic good in social policy. Disability and rehabilitation were discursively constructed during this time in ways that upheld existing social values and supported capitalist production. Conceptualizations of disability were overtly linked to one’s capacity to be economically productive within federal policy and discourse. The medical model of disability was entrenched through this policy. The emergence of Canadian rehabilitation programs for injured soldiers remains significant to Canadian social policy both because it set the stage for the development of Canada’s welfare policy, and residues of the disablist principles that were foundational to the program can be found within contemporary social policy. This examination demonstrates that through these programs, the federal government first interlocked disability with economic productivity in its policy and discourse, which worked to support the establishment of the medical model of disability and reinforce oppressive ideas about gender and citizenship.