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The History Of Disability Essay

1919 words - 8 pages

Black bodies, white bodies; male bodies, female bodies; young bodies, old bodies; beautiful bodies, broken bodies - right bodies and wrong bodies. Historically, our bodies have framed our futures and explained our past; our bodies write our stories. But it is not our bodies per se which write the story; rather it is the way in which we, as a society, construct our bodies which shapes our history and our future.Bodily difference has for centuries determined social structures by defining certain bodies as the norm, and defining those which fall outside the norm as 'Other'; with the degree of 'Otherness' being defined by the degree of variation from the norm. In doing this, we have created an artificial 'paradigm of humanity' into which some of us fit neatly, and others fit very badly. Life outside the paradigm of humanity is likely to be characterized by isolation and abuse.The story we have recorded of the lives of people with disability is a story of life lived on the margins. For people with disability, their history is largely a history of silence. The lives of people with disability have not only been constructed as 'Other', but frequently as 'the Other' of 'the Other'. People with disability are marginalized even by those who are themselves marginalized.While it is difficult to know where our constructions end and the reality begins (for the constructions shape the reality), it is clear that other stories and constructions which might have created different realities have been selectively 'forgotten'. Models of inclusion - for example, among the Maori in Aotearoa where it is suggested that disability is accepted as being normal - have been erased from Western disability history. Disability activists are now facing the task of re-creating a culture which celebrates and embraces difference. In the West, however, the script we have written for people with disability is a narrow one.The history of disability in the West has been characterized by the progressive development of several models of disability: the religious model of disability, the medical/genetic model of disability, and the rights-based model of disability. These models, or constructions of disability, have set the parameters for our response to people with disability. Through time, these models have become more sophisticated, yet their essence remains constant - otherness.The Religious Model of DisabilityIn a Western Judea-Christian society, the roots of understanding bodily difference have been grounded in Biblical references, the consequent responses and impacts of the Christian church, and the effect of the enlightenment project underpinning the modern era. These embodied states were seen as the result of evil spirits, the devil, witchcraft or God's displeasure. Alternatively, such people were also signified as reflecting the "suffering Christ", and were often perceived to be of angelic or beyond-human status to be a blessing for others.Therefore, themes which embrace notions of...

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