Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Attitudes Toward Persons with Disabilities

Attitudes Toward Persons with Disabilities
People with disabilities generally have experienced discrimination and devaluation based solely on being different from the non-disabled public. They are often treated with the same discrimination and bias as other more traditional minorities (Bedini, 1992). They are treated as outsiders, and a certain social distance exists between them and the non-disabled majority.
The treatment and attitudes toward persons with disabilities has historically gone through a continuum: from rigid exclusionary attitudes to the currently emerging inclusionary attitudes. It has gone through several stages. These stages can be described as follows (Mishra, n.d.; Caldwell, 1973 in Porter, 2002):
Infanticide and Cruelty
Persons with disabilities were disregarded through the natural process as ‘‘survival of the fittest’’ was the principle for survival. There was no place for the weak and sick people for they were considered incapable to fight in wars or to hunt for food. Children born with handicap conditions were not protected and they were allowed to die at birth or in infancy. In some instances it was believed that physical deformities and mental disorders were the result of possession by demons and thus, afflicted persons were rejected, punished or killed.
Missionary Approach
With the advent of religious ideals like Christianity and Buddhism, the cruel practices were gradually diminished. Religious leaders later became concerned in the custody and care of the persons with disabilities. Yet during the Middle Ages, persons with disabilities particularly those with physical-motor disabilities were mocked at in the streets, treated harshly and driven to jugglery, begging or crime. They were often objects of amusement and were used for entertainment. Attempts were also made to cure the disabilities but the methods of treatment were rather primitive. Institutes were founded for the poor and destitute which also included those with disabilities.
Training and Education
A number of institutions were set up for the blinds, deaf and with severe disabilities. It was recognized that prevention and early care would relieve the society of the burden of supporting the persons with disabilities throughout their lives. This stage can be subdivided into two:
Forget and Hide
Until the middle of twentieth century, families, communities and the society as a whole still seemed to try to reject the existence of persons with disabilities. Families often were advised to immediately institutionalize a member with disability. Groups, such as the National Association for Retarded Children in America, were founded and pushed effort to identify children with mental retardation and other disabilities to bring them out of hiding.
Screen and Segregate. Special Education came into being in public school systems. However at this stage, special education was more of custodial care. Persons with disabilities were tested, labeled and segregated into a special facility and basically isolated again.
Identify and Help
Political and social movements paved the way for the recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. These movements swayed the ideas on which much of the litigation and legislation involving persons with disabilities are based. Important court cases (e.g. Diana v. Board of Education; Larry P vs. Riles) present a progression of increasing rights for persons with disabilities. Together with this litigation, legislation (e.g. Americans with Disabilities Act, Individual with Disabilities Education Act) were started to be passed that provided further support for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Include and Support
This stage is signaled by the passage of legislations and litigation. As a result of breakthrough legislation promulgated in some of the progressive countries of the world, such as the IDEA, society has improved in understanding persons with disabilities. Thus the attitude of the society has been changing from hatred, to sympathy and tolerance to equal rights in school, in the workplace and in social settings.

Currently, the attitudes of the majority without disabilities toward the minority with disabilities are of especial importance because persons with disabilities are moving or being moved in the mainstream society. Yet, attitudes are the major barriers to people with disabilities’ full participation. According to Dalal (2006), attitudinal handicaps are pervasive and often far more devastating than the environmental handicaps. It is not the physical environment nor the actual limitations caused by their disabilities, but the discriminating attitudes imposed by the non-disabled people (Heward, 2003).

As Heward (2003) puts it, courts can decree or laws can mandate, but neither can alter the way attitudes in which individuals treat persons with disabilities. These stereotypical and negative attitudes hold people back:  from pity, awkwardness and fears to low expectations about what persons with disabilities can contribute (Massie, 2006). Whether the negative attitudes are of aversion, fear, guilt, anger, pity or sympathy, there is a need to change these attitudes to ensure better social integration of persons with disabilities.

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