Along with racial and religious minorities, homosexuals, and women, the disabled have long been denied equal opportunity.
Disability may be thought to pose special problems for Equality of Opportunity theorists since many of them endorse meritocratic allocation of jobs and many disabled persons face greater obstacles to becoming the most meritorious than the non-disabled since some are naturally disadvantaged in terms of abilities that may be related to performance in jobs. Treating the disabled the same as the non-disabled does not always suffice to treat them equally, for disabilities sometimes give rise to special needs and requirements. However, differential treatment can give rise to stigma and division, which is anathema to equality. These considerations are relevant to such practical decisions as the placement of disabled children in mainstream schools and their education therein.
There is much debate about the ability of Equality of Opportunity in general, as well as particular conceptions of Equality of Opportunity, to accommodate disability. Some critics, for instance, claim that many theories of justice focus unduly on reciprocity and co-operation, which the disabled may be excluded from, as a pre-condition of being deserving of equal opportunity and other demands of justice. Others claim that rather than focusing on Equality of Opportunity for Welfare, or Fair Equality of Opportunity, we should focus on ensuring that each person has a certain set of capabilities. Further debates focus on the extent to which (at least some of) the disadvantages of disability may be detached from the disability itself and the extent to which they are attached only in virtue of social organization or social attitudes, which we could and should alter. For instance, if the dominant modes of communication in our society were sign-based rather than spoken, perhaps muteness and deafness would not be considered disabilities. Likewise, where braille translations are readily available the blind do not face a disability with respect to reading.