DISABILITY AND CULTURAL INFLUENCE: A Glimpse into History

“it’s important to understand the history and appreciate where we are now so that people with the old assumption can embrace our special needs children and lend their voices”

Historically, cultural beliefs of people with developmental disabilities affected their acceptance in countries around the world. In the Western societies, infants with disabilities were killed while some were left to live on the streets where they had no choice but to beg for food and money to survive. In ancient Greek, they were killed or abandoned in the woods, labeled “Idiots” and kept by the wealthy men for amusement. The Roman empire courts used them as court jesters for the nobles while some were sold as slaves. In the United States, individuals with disability were placed in jails or asylums where they endured inhumane treatment. In some part of Africa, they were symbol of a curse befalling the family and were outrightly rejected, and in Nigeria, it was attributed to witchcraft, juju, and some sort of demon possession.

However, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a re-awakening of hope and possibilities for persons with disabilities particularly in America following the emergence of social reformers, Christianity, parent’s advocacy and civil rights movement leading to an increased interest and growing support for more acceptance and humane treatment for all persons with disabilities. This struggle resulted in the passage of various laws including educational laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities thus providing equal protection, equal opportunity, community-based delivery services and a more favorable environment, acceptance and increased visibility of persons with disability.

On the heels of all the civil rights movements in America and the enactment of laws by the American government, countries across Europe and The United Kingdom, organized and powerfully fought for the rights of these individuals.

So, the commitment and determination for change by these great men and women the world over influenced government policies in the Western societies and today many children enjoy access to normal functional, equal opportunity and independent life, supports and services, Special Education services (individualized and person-centered approach to meet the child’s specific needs), all-inclusive classroom and a shift from “all persons with disability to children with special needs”

Unfortunately, some countries are still infected by the old assumption that people with disabilities are demon possessed beings that are not eligible for the opportunities available to other people. This has contributed largely to the reason why most parents in the affected countries, find it difficult to accept their child’s condition or discuss their challenges leading to their inability to seek for help because they are afraid of how people will react to them or treat their child.

“The good news is despite the various types and causes of disorder, every child with special needs can be trained”. Can they learn? Yes! they can.