Attitudes to disability have come a long way, but may still have some way to go.There has been definite progress in terms of support for the disabled, but people still complain about disabled benefits and there are many who still today fail to understand why particular disabled people might need things to be a certain way.
The story of how we got to where we are today is an interesting one though, and the future of how society treats its disabled members looks like it will become an equally interesting tale.
The attitudes of early civilisations like the Spartans towards disabled people are well documented; it was a hard life at best if you were disabled any time before the 20th century. Help would be limited to physical aids, mostly wooden crutches and supports.
Mental illnesses and disabilities, or problems with seeing and hearing, were mostly either ignored or mocked. It seemed as though there were some things man simply could not do anything about.
“An Ingenious Way to Live”
The early modern age and industrial revolution completely changed the way people saw disabilities. Where once the disabled were looked on with superstitious fear or helpless pity, the spread of science and industrial know-how meant that the average post-enlightenment Victorian no longer saw disability as a devastating blow. Disability was no longer something terminal to be dismayed at, but a mere obstacle to be overcome by ingenious application of science.
Science could fix everything the Enlightenment said.
Neil Marcus, a disabled artist and actor, describes the progression aptly: “Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’… disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”
It was during this period that wheelchairs became common. Towards the end of the great industrial age, experiments like “Exploring Optophone” (a device used to by the blind to scan text) also started to become a more regular sight.
Augmentation, Not Substitution
This period marked the beginning of a progression towards augmenting the abilities of man, not merely attempting to replicate them.
Nowadays, perfectly healthy people are able to use mobility scooters or cyborg glasses and reasonably expect to get some benefit out of them.
Movements like post-humanism and trans-humanism seek to further enhance our capabilities, turning us into true cyborgs and rejecting any human element of our lives. So far, they’ve achieved little success.
But could products originally designed to help the disabled turn humans into a race of uber-enhanced superheroes?
Is this the future?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
James Duval writes posts for Mobility Aids Direct, a company that offers a huge range of mobility aids and disabled living aids to people throughout the UK.