Cultural perception of disability has long standing historical influences and has been shaped by fear of the unknown.
Ancient Greeks disposed of imperfect babies. The Romans would throw disfigured children under horse’s hooves in games in the Coliseum. Witches were identified by their impairments or by giving birth to disabled children and burnt at the stakes. Changeling children were drowned. Ridiculed as Court Jesters and the village idiot. Differences were caused by maternal imagination if frightened when pregnant, sexual immorality, astrological factors and divine punishment of parent sins.
Fear of the unknown - difference – do we still have that excuse today?
Homes for the elderly reminiscent of the images of the old asylum’s still haunt us. Derogatory, demeaning, dehumanizing. It is still ‘them and us’. Frightening as we don’t want it for ourselves so we ignore it. 70% of us will become disabled as we age.
We in theory have come far from exorcism, bleeding, leeches, cupping, electric shocks, lobotomy and worse. Or have we? There are many therapies and treatments out there and some parents want to cure their child. This is one of the reasons the disability movement have not always seen eye to eye with the carer's movement.
Disability is a product of how we have set our society up. Discrimination, bullying, abuse, hate crime and oppression are still with us. We still struggle with getting on to transport, getting jobs, getting into buildings, communication. Many families/people still feel they can’t go out. Cutting benefits and services adds to the perception of burden that our society has to bear adding to the barriers of prejudice and ignorance. Keeping people stuck in the cycle of institutionalisation and dependency.
Many charities still exploit pity. Language is bias as we still use such words as; special, client, victim, user, marginalised, suffers from etc. We want to hear about independence, participation, inclusion, choice and more...
With social networking diversity is talked about so let’s use words that are inclusive for everyone. This is one small change we can all do which will make a huge difference.