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Civilized Societies - Or Not

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-12-15 - Where human societies in our world and their treatment of people with disabilities are concerned what has history shown us - Disabled World.

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Where human societies in our world and their treatment of people with disabilities are concerned, what has history shown us

For example; people with disabilities in China before the year 1980 - presumably for lengthy periods of time, were referred to in a derogatory manner. Non-disabled persons in China called those who did experience forms of disabilities, 'can fei,' meaning, 'handicapped and useless.' Fortunately, attitudes towards people with disabilities in China have changed over time and we are now referred to as, 'can ji ren,' meaning, 'persons with disabilities.'

The Chinese constitution gives protection to people with disabilities now. Article 45 of their constitution states that, "all citizens...have the right to material assistance from the state and society when they are old, ill, or disabled." China develops social relief, health, medical and social insurance services the nation's citizens need. China's constitution also says, "...the state and society help make arrangements for the work, livelihood and education of the blind, deaf-mute, and other handicapped citizens." More than thirty national laws which contain provisions related to people with disabilities that protect their rights exist in China.

People with disabilities and history are difficult at times to pursue in relation to one another. As Douglas C. Baynton wrote in, "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in America History ,": 'Disability is everywhere in history once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write.' After writing several items related to Disability History myself, I agree with Douglas. Many times, the language used to describe persons with disabilities is either inappropriate, hidden, or hinted at instead of openly presented. One of the places where language that might be considered to be inappropriate in reference to people with disabilities might be found is actually The Bible, although the references to us cannot be denied or missed. For example:

Matthew Chapter 4

[23] Then he went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness among the people.

[24] His fame spread throughout Syria, and people brought to him all who were sick those afflicted with various diseases and pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralyzed - and he healed them.

Alison Purnell, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of York, has been pursuing studies related to people with disabilities during the Middle Ages. She brings to light a perspective of people with disabilities as children during the time period. The perspective of non-disabled persons during this time period appears to be one of people with disabilities as being incapable of legal adulthood. Allison writes:

"It has been said that there was no state of childhood in the Middle Ages. However, when approached from a disability standpoint, this theory becomes problematic. In a sacral sense, there is a definite differentiation between childhood and adulthood: there are sacraments which are reserved for adult members of the religious community, predicated on adult understanding and knowledge. The ritual difference between a child and an adult is the basis for my use of the term "sacral disability": being barred or hindered from full participation (inclusion in the rites and sacred responsibilities considered the norm for their age) in the religious life of the community due to a perceived Otherness. Spiritual adulthood carries different rights and responsibilities than legal adulthood, and thus the requirements for sacral adulthood do not necessarily correspond to the requirements for legal adulthood, and this highlights the need to examine each vernacular in its own context. The concerns of pastoral writers are spiritual and focused on the eternal ramifications of life on earth, while legal theorists seem to be most concerned with the practical applications of the law."

What about more modern times

During the Victorian era America, in response to an increase in social poverty, began to build poorhouses in cities and towns for people from any age group; as well as people who were ill or behaving in a way that would today be considered to be an intellectual impairment, social deviancy, or mental illness. Treatment of people considered to be, 'abnormal,' perhaps as expected, followed value judgments on the parts of non-disabled persons as to who was, 'worthy,' and who was not. People who were unable to compete could not find work or an income; they fell into poverty and were incarcerated in poorhouses. The thing that made people, 'legitimate,' was their earning capacity.

Until the twentieth century, non-disabled persons avoided use of the term,'disability,' when describing the characteristic that identifies individuals whose activity is due to long-term or permanent conditions. To this very day the term,'disability,' remains vague. Before disability was used to describe a group of people with medical diagnosis that affect their daily activities, terms that include, 'blind,' 'cripple,' 'handicapped,' 'deaf,' and so on were. People with disabilities went on to become the objects of charity and charitable efforts in America; something seen as an economic function. People with disabilities whose conditions allowed for some kind of work or who could be rehabilitated were perceived as worthy of public support. Other people with disabilities were viewed as objects of charity. The effects of these perceptions remain to this day in America.

Civilized Society and People with Disabilities Today

Today, people with disabilities receive medical diagnosis. We receive medical treatment for our differences from non-disabled persons. During times of economic strife, or even times when economies are doing well, people with disabilities are often viewed as economic burdens. Laws in some nations have been put into place in attempts to equalize the rights and abilities of people with disabilities.

Perceptions among non-disabled persons have been swayed by the history of those non-disabled persons who have come before us. While the leaders of nations make occasional attempts to pass laws that help people with disabilities, tired and out-dated perceptions of who we really are and our abilities continue to perpetuate. The medical model of disability continue to pervade, despite a well-described and completely adequate Social Model of Disability.

From China to Europe to America - the histories of nations have presented a clear picture of prejudicial treatment of people with disabilities by non-disabled persons in societies. Supposedly, 'civilized,' societies are ones that have citizens who do not mistreat one another. Until the Social Model of Disability is present in societies around the world, and mistreatment and misconceptions regarding people with disabilities has ended on Earth, it is my conclusion that there is not one single civilized society in our world today.

  • Overview of Disability in China
  • Alison Purnell - Middle Ages and Disability Studies - www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2008/05/alison-purnell-on-religion-and-medieval.html
  • History Of Disability - www.ccids.umaine.edu/resources/dvp/files/two_cont.htm


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