The history of disability varies from one community to another. There isn’t much on disability in history and perceptions of society concerning people with disabilities. Here are a few observations regarding the history of disability.
Greek And Roman Views of Disability
According to Greek history, the sick were seen as inferior. It was recommended during Plato’s reign, to hide the deformed offspring in a mysterious unknown place. When Christianity came about, it was no longer a disgrace or shame to have offspring that were “different”. Disability was seen as a means of purification and grace.
Christianity View of Disability (16th century)
Christians such as Luther and John Calvin believed that the mentally retarded and disabled were possessed by evil spirits. These men and others did terrible things to people with disabilities both mentally and physically to rid them of “evil spirits”.
In the 19th century, supporters of social Darwinism went against helping the poor and disabled as they believed it would impede the process of natural selection “survival of the fittest”.
Some communities banished or abused the blind, while others gave special privileges. Persons with disabilities were rejected in some cultures and treated as “outcasts”. Not only that, they were seen as a liability and kept alive grudgingly by their families. There were however other communities who were accepting and gave respect to those, seeing them as capable humans.
An African View of Disabilities (1960 – 1977)
In East Africa, the physically disabled were seen as pacifiers for evil spirits. Because of this belief, they were taken care of and not harmed. In West Africa, there were constables selected who had obvious physical disabilities.
In Benin, offspring that were born deformed were seen as supernatural entities and readily accepted as being “good luck” omens. In Nigeria, those with disabilities were pampered or totally rejected.