Jonathan hara’s Weblog

Week 13
December 11, 2008, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As my final post, ill sort of give a brief and broad time line of some events that have relevance to disabilities and how they impact or are impacted by society.

As early as the BC era, there has been discrimination against people with disabilities. “Marcus Sergius, a Roman general who led his legion against Carthage (presently Tunis) in the Second Punic War, sustained 23 injuries and a right arm amputation. An iron hand was fashioned to hold his shield and he was able to go back to battle. He was denied a chance to be a priest because one needed two normal hands” ( Jumping into more recent history, the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind was authorized by U.S. congress to grant college degrees in 1864. The Institution was the first college in the world established for people with disabilities. Though this was a great step forward for those individuals, the name of the institution itself still portrayed society’s view of these individuals. Between the years of 1910 and 1924, there were many publications put out that talked about disability, immorality, and their links to genetics ( Two pieces, The Kallikak Family, by Henry Goddard, and a pamphlet titled The Threat of the Feeble Minded stirred up a lot of commotion in the community that provided fuel for the eugenics movement.

In 1924, “The Commonwealth of Virginia passed a state law that allowed for sterilization (without consent) of individuals found to be “feebleminded, insane, depressed, mentally handicapped, epileptic and other.” Alcoholics, criminals and drug addicts were also sterilized” ( As discussed in my disability studies class, eugenics can be practiced in many ways including, but not limited to, life segregation, sterilization, restrictive marriage, and eugenic education. Though this practice was met with both support and rejection, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of activity regarding protesting its use despite the severity of these practices and the fact that they were both unethical and uncivil. What solidified eugenic practices was “The Buck v. Bell Supreme Court decision ruled that forced sterilization of people with disabilities was not a violation of their constitutional rights. This decision removed all restraints for eugenicists” ( According to Fleisher, The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Commonwealth of Virginia eugenic laws as constitutional. “Supreme court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes equated sterilization to vaccination, and Nationally, twenty-seven states began wholesale sterilization of “undesirables.”

Another big event in history was World War II. In 1939, Hitler began his own program of eugenics. He “ordered widespread mercy killing of the sick and disabled. The Nazi euthanasia program (code name Aktion T-4) was instituted to eliminate “life unworthy of life”” ( Hitler later suspended the Aktion T4 program that killed nearly one hundred thousand people. Though the widespread eugenics and genocide of the Jews had been slowed, euthanasia continued to run rampant through the use of drugs and starvation instead of gassings.

A momentous period in history for disability rights and overall civil rights was the rightly named “Civil Rights Movement” of the 1950’s through 60’s. The historical even that got the ball rolling was the Brown v. Board of education decision in 1954. Through these decades, civil rights, disability rights, and many other rights were fought and pressed for. In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which “prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin and creed (gender was added later). This Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations and employment as well as in federally assisted programs” (Fleischer).

Though these events made great strides, a lot of damage was already done, and although the discrimination of people with disabilities had slowed, by the 1970s, over 60,000 disabled people were sterilized without their consent.

We now jump to more recent news. 1990 was also a momentous year for people with disabilities. “The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by George W. Bush. The Act provided comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in history. It mandated that local, state and federal governments and programs be accessible, that businesses with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled workers and that public accommodations such as restaurants and stores make “reasonable modifications” to ensure access for disabled members of the public. The act also mandated access in public transportation, communication, and in other areas of public life” ( Though the ADA has had its fair share of complaints, and has been criticized for not being specific enough, it was a major milestone in gaining rights for people with disabilities.

Though we still have a long way to go in creating equality in society for people with disabilities, there are sections of society which have made much improvement to the view of people with disabilities and often this effect has trickled down into more mainstream events. Take the movie industry as an example. Looking at Disney’s Peter Pan, in which Captain Hook is displayed as a revenge seeking elderly dupe in which Peter Pan can continually make a fool of, we see that back in the 1950’s, this movie pushed strong stereotypes about people with disabilities. Step into the new millennium and we see a movie like Finding Nemo. This movie is an excellent example of the progress that some areas of society have made over the years. Many of the characters in this picture possessed disabilities, yet they were all confident, strong willed and highly motivated. Compared to the normally negative images portrayed by the media of people with disabilities, this movie totally switched this role and gave a lot of empowering and inspirational life to the characters with disabilities.

Obviously the public and societal opinion over the years has changed, and is moving in a positive direction. However, the quotes from Johnson stating “…it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know.” , and
“Most of what we experience as ‘real’ is a cultural creation.” Show that the socialization of the world is what really will determine the future of society’s view of people with disabilities.

If you’ve made it through my long and boring post, congratulations…you’re a trooper. Hope everyone had a good semester, and good luck with finals.


Fleischer, Doris Zames and Frieda Zames. The Disability Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.

Johnson, Mary. Make Them Go Away : Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve and the Case Against Disability Rights. New York: Advocado P, Incorporated, The, 2003.

Smart, Julie. Disability,Society and the Individual. Danbury: PRO-ED, Incorporated, 2005.


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