People with Disabilities are People

People with Disabilities are People

It isn’t that people with disabilities have failed to succeed in our systems, our society has failed to embrace the full potential of humans and has limited us to narrow ideas of what we should be.

“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.”
– Martina Navratilova

Throughout history, people with disabilities have been treated with everything from disinterest to outright cruelty. Because they have been seen as different, people with disabilities have been hated and feared, they have been ostracized and institutionalized. 

Today we possess the knowledge and ability to end this cycle. People with disabilities deserve to be treated as humans, nothing more, nothing less. Their differences are not something to separate them from others or condemn them to lives of dependency, instead their difference can be seen as possibilities and a normal part of human individuality.

It isn’t that people with disabilities have failed to succeed in our systems, our society has failed to embrace the full potential of humans and has limited us to narrow ideas of what we should be.

Historical Look at How People with Disabilities were Treated

Prior to the 1860s a person with a disability was the concern of the family. Depending on their situation in life, they might or might not have what they need to flourish. Then in the mid 1800s there was a growing awareness that somehow society should provide care for this group of people. Unfortunately it quickly became the job of medical doctors to care for those with disabilities giving rise to the idea that being disabled was akin to being sick or ill. While sometimes that is true, it often isn’t. Many times a person with a disability is healthy. Their disability doesn’t make them sick.  

The medical doctor’s focus on disability as an illness gave rise to the institutionalization movement, which locked up so many people to live in substandard conditions. We have all heard horror stories of what these institutions were like. Even worse, the medical community sometimes experimented on people with disabilities with the justification that they were trying to help these “poor” people. Others followed the eugenics model and sterilized anyone deemed unworthy of reproducing. These attacks on the rights of individuals with disabilities were unnecessary and cruel. 

Attitudes Today Regarding People with Disabilities

Today we have moved away from the institutional model but we are a long way from acknowledging that people with disabilities have the same rights as any person. In particular people with disabilities are fighting for their right to live independently, earn a living wage, stay free from physical and mental harm and gain the respect they deserve.

Indeed many people, even today, believe that should someone with a disability move into their neighborhood their property values will go down, their children will be unsafe and they will disrupt normal life. It’s ironic because these same people often also believe that people with disabilities aren’t capable of being on their own and are childlike. Part of this fear and lack of understanding comes from years of misinformation about people with disabilities.

People with disabilities, like all people, have vast differences. There are more than 50 million American’s who have disabilities but their ability levels vary widely. Even some of the most disabled amongst us, like scientist Steven Hawking, can provide great benefit to society. It’s time we stop assuming that having a disability automatically puts a person into a special dependent classification and start realizing the true potential of all people, regardless of ability.

“When you hear the word ‘disabled,’ people immediately think about people who can’t walk or talk or do everything that people take for granted. Now, I take nothing for granted. But I find the real disability is people who can’t find joy in life and are bitter.” – Teri Garr

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