For most of society, ableism didn’t really exist. Times that people with impairments were discrimination against they were seen as god-like or closer to God, such as how Aztecs viewed disabled people and the Egyptians saw dwarfs.
The ancient Greeks and Romans had no concept of disability. Although the Greeks had words for specific impairments such as “blind” and “deaf”, they didn’t have a word for disabled. Some of they’re gods had impairments.
In the Middle Ages, people with impairments lived in communities with their families. If they weren’t able to, church teaching meant they were cared for my monks or nuns.
Late Middle Ages
Ableism is believed to originate in this time period but it wasn’t as serve as during the Industrial Revolution. This is because of changes the economy, changes were made to agriculture and task became more time-oritated than task-orientated.
People became interested in mental illness, they were featured in popular Shakespearean tragedies. People with mental illness were seen by “professionals” as malfunctioning machines.
In the UK, King George III became “mad” which increased public interest. Even though his was a king he was still abused by his doctors. He was beaten, restrained and verbally abused. Mental illness was seen as a source of public entertainment in 1914, 96,000 people paid a penny to visit Bedlam.
Will Sommer, Fool of King Henry VIII of England
While in the late middle ages, people with mental illness were seen as a source of public entertainment, so were people with learning disabilities. However they were respected. Many were employed as fools and were seen as a source of both wisdom and humour. They enjoyed a privileged life in court being cared for by a “keeper”. Even fools that were hired by monarchs considered tyrants were highly respected such as Mary I’s fool, Jane. Fools were popular from the early middle ages but popularity declined in the 18th when people became interested in what is “normal”, fools were consider abnormal.
Industrial Revolution (Early Capitalism)
The industrial revolution was when ableism as we know it today began to exist. This is because disabled people found themselves unemployed and as a result were segregated by society in places such as workhouses.
Disabled people found themselves increasing unemployed. This is because new industrial towns and cities destroyed the villages were they used to work. Jobs that they used to became automated. The only employment for working class people were now factories which many disabled people found difficult.
A Freak Show
One employment disabled people could find were in freak shows. These were popular forms of entertainment, even being visited by Queen Victoria. Freak shows displayed human “oddities” and often these people were described as monsters and the missing links between humans and non-human primates. People that were considered odd included BIPOC and disabled people.
At the end of the 19th century the popularity of freak shows began to decline. This is as zoos and music halls became more popular. Also, after the First World War many soldiers returned home newly disabled, viewing these people as “freaks” was not in public interest.
Even though Freak Shows no long exist, at least in their original form, they have gave people a sense that BIPOC and disabled people are “other” and “abnormal” that have passed through generations
Eugenics, Social Darwinism and WW1+2
TW: Eugenics, war and genocide
In 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of the Species”. This lead to the modern day theory of evolution via natural selection. In this book, Darwin talks about artificial selection, how selective breeding has been used to create animals we see today, such as the domestic dog.
Darwin’s theory on evolution created eugenicists and social darwinists. Mainly white abled upper class men, they misunderstood Darwin’s theory, believing it could be used to remove “undesirable” characteristics from the human population such as disabilities and being BIPOC. As well as their genetic traits being undesirable, eugentists and social darwinists, believed that disabled people and BIPOC were not naturally meant to survive in the wild.
Eugenics were put into practice with many mainstream politicians such as Winston Churchill. Many countries began force sterilisation programmes. The last ended in Eugenics and social darwinism stopped becoming mainstream after WW1, when many veterans returned home newly disabled.
However as abortion is becoming more mainstream so is eugenics. Doctors and geneticists are working on ways to test embryos and fetuses for certain genetic disabilities. For those disabilities that we can already test such as Down’s syndrome many people who were pregnant claim that these were pressured by health care professionals to have an abortion and they exaggerate the reality of living with the disabled. In Iceland, the rate of abortion for babies that would have been born with Down Syndrome is 100%
Nazis and WW2
Hitler first praised eugenics in his 1924 book “Meif Kampf”. According the Nazis, not all disabled people were equal and generally divided in the following groups:
Disabled war veterans were considered heroes and given privileges.
Blind and d/Deaf people and the physical were believed the potential to be productive citizens. Many joined the Nazi party and Nazi related organisations.
“Feeable-minded” people and people with hereditary conditions were considered inferior. They were targets of genocide and other horrible policies.
In 1933, “feeable minded” people and people with hereditary conditions were targets of forced sterilisation, this wasn’t lifted until 1939. The people selected were based on the results of an exam.
In 1938, Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s number 2, banned freak shows. He said it was because he was against making money out of human misery. However, in practice they had already been replaced with an officially sanctioned version with the specific purpose – to show the general public that they were superior to the disabled and disabled people must be sterilised.
Involuntary euthanasia was introduced in 1939. It was never made public for fear of opposition. However Nazis did try to turn people against disabled people with the propaganda such the 1942 film, Ich klage an (English: I accuse).
T4 Programme and Genocide
The genocide against disabled people mainly occurred in T-4 Tiergarenstrasse and became known as the T4 programme. It primarily targeted disabled people but also targeted anyone the Nazis saw as an economic burgeon. Because of fear of public opposition, practically from families, it was disguised as a care program. Funding came from victims’ families, even after they were murdered.
At first victims were starved to death, later they were given a lethal injection. Eventually the T4 programme became the first use of gas chambers. Public opposition of the T4 programme led to its closer in August 1941. However disabled people were placed in different camps. Approx 275,000 people were killed in the T4 program.
Hans Asperger, who’s created with the discovery of “Asperger’s Syndrome”, was a Nazi doctor who supported the T4 programme. He used his condition “Autistic psychopathy” to decide who he considered worthy of live. He sent at least 2 children to the programme.
Rights Movement and Morden Attitudes Toward Disability(post WW2- Present)
The first know campaign for disability rights occurred in France during the French Revolution. Patients at a hospital for disabled veterans wanted to elect their own management. Their campaign ended when Napoleon came to power.
Before WW2, in most societies there was no concept of disability. This change when disabled people were segregated causing ignorance and fear in ableds.
In the 60s employment increased, including employment for disabled people. Welfare states were created as well as advancement in technology. These lead to the public questioning segregation and institutionalisation.
For obvious reasons, disability became a taboo subject after WW2, even after many war veterans became disabled. The allies refused to pay disabled veterans their pensions and they often has to restore to begging on the streets. War veterans organisation themselves into the first disability rights group to demand jobs and pensions. In 1959 they name themselves War Disabled, War Survivors and Social Pensioners (VdK) and began protesting against benefit cuts.
The cold war and partition of Germany changed the political climate. This change included Nazis being reinstated into positions of power, including a doctor who committed genocide against disabled people. These changes encouraged segregation.
The modern German rights movement began after Gusti Steiner and a non-disabled journalist Ernst Klee founded a course at Frankfurt’s Adult Education Centre. Their requests to make specific buildings and services accessible were ignored. Course participants protests against this, including one protest where they blocked the roads during rush hour. This led to a ramp being installed outside the Frankfurt main post office.
In 1980 Franfurt’s district court ruled in favour of a woman who claimed that her holiday was ruined by people with learning disabilities staying at the same hotel. This verdict lead the Europe’s biggest demonstration against ableism with 5,000 protesters. In 1981, the UN’s international Year of Disabled People, protesters occupied the stage of Federal President Karl Carstens to protest against “special” treatment and “people talking about us but not with us”
In the 90s and 00s attitudes towards disability improved with Centres for Independent Living and the major exhibition being held in Dresden. Later the government adopted an anti-discrimination law
Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs)
Today life for disabled people varies. Disabled people who live in urban areas are often hidden and families are often forced to send them to institutions.
In rural communities attitudes towards disability are similar to those in the Middle Ages. This is because as most people live with their families on farms work can be flexible, varied and task-oriented.
Activism in Uganda began in 1987 because of the civil war creating disabled veterans. They organised themselves into National Union of Disabled People in Uganda (NUDIPU). They successfully campaigned for the government to have a quota for disabled people and women.
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