Remembering that people with disabilities have always existed

Content warning: This post talks about institutionalization in graphic terms. Proceed with caution.

Sometimes people say things like this:

  • “When I was a kid, no one had all these learning disabilities and syndromes!”
  • “We’re all so much sicker these days. I never heard of all these diseases until recently.”

And - people who say this? You know why you never met anyone like this as a child?

Because, when you were a kid, people with learning disabilities, syndromes, illnesses, etc weren’t allowed to go to your school. A good percentage of them weren’t even allowed to live in your town.

They were kept away from people like you, and kept in horrifying conditions, so that you and other more socially valued people wouldn’t have to see them or know they existed. (It’s not your fault. You were a child and didn’t know. But it was done in your name, partly.) And a lot of them did not survive childhood because they were not given the care that would have made it possible. And this isn’t over. This still happens.

(And people with disabilities are still afraid of it happening to them).

But thing are getting a bit better - or, more accurately, people who have been fighting this evil for decades are starting to win.

So, these days, many children like those who were carefully kept away from you and your peers are allowed to grow up in families. In schools. As part of their communities. Visibly. And, this means more of them are suriving childhood.

And some adults with disabilities are now treated as adults and allowed to acknowledge disability without forfeiting adulthood. Not everyone, not yet. Not enough. But some. More than there used to be, fewer than there should be.

People with disabilities have always existed. And the fact that everyone now has to notice that they exist is a dramatic improvement. It’s a good thing that you see more people with disabilities now. It means some of them aren’t brutally hidden in institutions. Your children are growing up in a better world than you did. Remember this.