The long-standing stigma


From an early age, most people with disability are aware that a prescribed standard of perfection or wholeness in their world is missing. Every time we were told a fairytale or read books about derring-do or saw movies or cartoons which depicted the hero or heroine as physically perfect, brave and all things wholesome, it served to compound a sense of loss, of not quite being there. Characters with any imperfections or disabilities were depicted as anti-heroes or villains, the harbingers of anguish, evil and weakness.

In film and theatre, intolerance and prejudice towards deviation from the accepted image of perfection is to be found; in fact, it is in nearly all literary forms, from the Bible through to Shakespeare to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The angry and isolated cripple is another favoured representation. In an article in Disability Arts magazine in 1991, Stephen Dwoskin observes: "Shakespeare's Richard III sets the stage for the `evil' or `demonic cripple'. Yes, he is the victim, but the revengeful one who has been `cheated of feature by dissembling nature'. Richard becomes the symbol of the threatening cripple . . . the dramatic metaphor for non-disabled people to believe that disability is at the core and the cause of his evil ways."

The Bible also connects "the cripple" to sin and sinners. The Old Testament decrees that "for whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach (the altar): a blind man or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose or any thing that is superfluous or a man that is broken-footed or broken-handed, or crookbacked or a dwarf . . ."

Martin Luther believed people with disability were as "soulless" as animals, demons and elves. Luther recommended killing them, since he believed that the devil had stolen the human and then substituted himself.

Adolf Hitler took this stuff and nonsense so literally that it conveniently justified in his mind his insane "pure race" theory - and his desire to exterminate those who didn't match his ideal of perfection. Millions of Jews, gypsies and cripples paid the ultimate price for what we today timidly call "prejudice". But society today would never tolerate anything like that . . . or would it?