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H810 – History – changing accessibility (A12.1)

October 9, 2010

Fortunately things changed, though not always to the extend that would fully level the ‘playing-field’ for disabled students.

Terminology fortunately changed too, but I am not sure if the attitudes of people really changed to the same extend. One student in my tutor group reports from other people who believe that some disabled students are not justifiable recipient of financial and practical support and find it  unfair and a drain on resources.

Exploring the Disability History Museum site I found this document ‘Classification of idiocy‘ where they used as well the terms ‘idiot child’. They classified into two categories whether someone is or is not, a complete idiot. To those at the upper end of the scale, the term is commonly applied of imbecile, or weak-minded. To the latter, are frequently applied the terms simple, foolish, innocent, etc. That is fortunately unthinkable today, though terms like idiot or retarded are still in use today.

Terminology is one thing that changed, sometimes to fast and please forgive me when I might use a term that is not politically correct, as I have the problem to rely on dictionaries (English is not my first language) that are not always up-to-date regarding terminology. But more important and having a far greater impact is that attitudes did not change to the same degree as terminology. A common believe, displayed in the first resource about the history of Worcester College for the Blind, was to equate blindness with cognitive limitations, that these boys would not be able to be educated like their non-disabled peers. Samuel Forster asserted that ‘the blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy., whose lot is cast in the dark…’. Little after-school provision was offered and the older students were ’employed in making nets. sewing sacks and such work as they are found capable of doing till their education is finished and they have attained sufficient strength to be put to regular trades in the Asylum’. Higher Education for blind children was confined to those fortunate enough to be born into families with the means and the will to provide this privately. I found it quite interesting that Blair and Foster thought already 1882 about an integrative approach of blind students with sighted students and how they could support each other. Another interesting fact was that they talked just about boys, so it seems that blind girls and young women had not access to education?

In the nineteenth century the theories of social Darwinism and eugenics dominated and looking at my own sad history Hitler still practiced eugenics and deported and killed disabled people. Segregation from society and segregation of the sexes within institutions was common practice. In the German school system segregation regarding schools still dominate and though integration of disabled students into mainstream schooling is becoming more common practice, do parents still have no legal right that their disabled child will receive a place in a mainstream school and are still too often advised that special needs school will foster the needs of their child a lot better.

I think that shows that in this area a lot more have to be done, than simply changing terminology, but principally to raise awareness, change attitudes and improve funding.

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One Comment
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