HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF DISABILITY



Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

When we look across the history of mankind the very existence of disability has been there throughout and has been associated with certain stigmas may it be using terminologies such as “Bichara ” and other forms of social ridicule and humiliation. We live in a society where bodily perfection is looked upon as the benchmark and people who deviate from the social perception of perfection are considered as something which is a biological given, abnormal, are often seen as victims and always in a need for help as well as seeking sympathy. Thus, associating their disabilities with their fate and destiny and their retribution to their past karma and life.

Throughout history, people with disabilities have been treated differently from those who conform to or fit societal norms. Some of those unfair treatments that were acceptable by different societies in given time periods.

In the ancient Greek period they were killed or abandoned in the woods, also the Roman empire had different place for persons with disability as they were kept as jesters which were usually people who used to do or were employed to tell funny stories, tell jokes and were basically employed for amusing people who were present in the nobility and in the roman courts. Also, they were drowned and burned during the Spanish Inquisition

Though the period of renaissance believed to be the age of rational and scientific thinking and was a period where the people were experimenting and in a sense was a revolution in the sense that people were going against to the authority of the church by coming up with scientific experiments. Still there were certain instances and acts were noted of infanticide were noted of the people involving with any kind of disability.

In1601, Queen Elizabeth’s government divided the poor into three groups, the disabled poor were placed in the group labelled “helpless poor.”

Kept in cellars in correctional institutions in early colonial America if family support was not available; people then paid admission to gawk at the oddities.

Primary care given by the family at home in the early history of the United States instead of children being allowed out in public, e.g., home- schooled and excluded from community activities Shackled to their beds in U.S. institutions because there was an insufficient number of staff members to care for residents.

Involuntary sterilisation of people with developmental disabilities in the United States, beginning in 1907, to prevent the passing on of inferior traits Considered by eugenicists as defective and an interference with the pro- cess of “natural selection.”

In the Nazi Germany during the reign of Hitler people with disabilities were:

1. Gassed, drugged, blood let, and euthanised

2. Institutionalised regardless of needs, e.g., person with cerebral palsy was considered mentally retarded

3. Housed in separate institutions throughout the world

4. Not allowed to attend neighbourhood schools

5. Aversion techniques used

6. Seclusion policies applied

7. Restraint applied

8. Abuse prevalent (physical, mental, sexual, financial)

9. Victimized with inhumane treatments

10. Lives devalued

11. Stigmatized as criminals

12. Viewed as sickly

13. Inaccurately tested

14. Inappropriate labels and services rendered

During World War II, when many jobs were left vacant in the United States, adults with disabilities joined the workforce, showing their competencies, until returning soldiers replaced them in the years following the war. Thankfully, during the 1960s and 1970s, the civil rights movement began and created an even more favourable climate for people with disabilities to continue to enter and succeed in the workforce and beyond. When the inhumane treatment of people with disabilities in institutions in the United States was exposed, this laid down a supportive stage for improving conditions inside and outside of schools for people with disabilities.

Eventually, more civil rights and educational laws were passed that consequently changed and expanded services for students and adults with disabilities. This led to the deinstitutionalisation of people with disabilities and altered the way society viewed disabilities in general.

Group homes became the norm rather than the exception, and more community integration came to be afforded to people with disabilities, with settings that promote independent living.

This basically shows a scenario of the kind of ridicule these people are subjected to and a portrayal of discrimination since the very existence of the mankind and across the globe in different ways and forming experiences each very personal to people with disabilities.


Persons with disabilities constitute a crosscutting and silent minority who are discriminated against on account of a range of disabilities when it comes to access and equal participation in economic, social and political aspects of life. It is established that disability is cross cutting and often compounded by gender and social identity. So, it is the need for the hour in order to find out the ground reality of the situation of people with disabilities in terms of employment, equal opportunities , infrastructure and social inclusion and acceptance of these people in the society.


“So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet, Try to make sense of what you see and hold on to that childlike wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

-Stephens Hawking



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