Disability: Eugenics and United States

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Taking historical perspectives discuss the social construction of disability

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the social construction of disability in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I will do this by taking a historical perspective on eugenics and by looking at how disability has been viewed and treated in the past and present. This historical perspective will draw links between eugenics, common day stereotypes associated with persons with disabilities and how professionals use their skills to try and cure disability (medical model). The term eugenics was created by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and a scientist who laid foundations of the theory of evolution and transformed the way about the natural world. (Glad, 2006). Galton defined eugenics as the study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding. The story of eugenics is the best ways of explaining the social aspects of science, technology and the power of medical professionals which is often not questioned and too ignored. Mitchell and Snider (2003) state that people with disabilities were excluded from the society and this was based upon the power of scientific and management systems. This view has been supported by Albrecht et al (2001) who argued that the medical model of defining and classifying disability became heavily accepted in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Albrecht et al (2001) state that professionals used their scientific methods to point out those who were called feeble-minded, psychopathic, epileptic, suffering from mental disease or any kind of impairment and these were identified as being nothing more than threat or burden in the state. Compelling the work of eugenics into account Glade (2006) notes that Galton proposed that it would be possible to screen out inferiors producing a better future generation and population. The bodies which were labeled as “defective became the central point of violent European and American efforts to engineer a `healthy` body politic”. (Mitchell and Snider, 2003, pp.843) The belief and the control of heredity played a significant role in the history of social construction of disability in European countries. One of the programs carried out during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, is the sterilisation programs that targeted people with impairments in the United States of America. According to Kerr and Shakespeare (2002), the United States of America`s compulsory sterilisation had a major impact and it became a favorable solution. Oliver and Barnes (1998) state that economic and cultural development provided power for developing policies of exclusion; hence throughout this period, the policy of segregating people with impairments into institutional settings slowly increased and extended to other disadvantaged groups. People with impairments, lower classes and ethnic minorities were mostly affected, as they constituted the bulk of the inmates. (Kerr and Shakespeare, 2002). According to Kerr and Shakespeare (2002), there were concerns about the declining birth rate of amongst the middle classes and the uncontrolled reproduction of the unfit amongst the lower classes. In this response middle classes expanded regulations by imposing immigration restriction regulations to prevent what they called inferiors soiling the population with inferior genes. (Barnes and Oliver, 1998). The laws which discriminated people with impairments became priority in the history of social construction of disability. (Barness and Oliver, 1998). In support of Oliver and Barnes’s argument , Glad (2006) state that it is discrimination for someone to decide which characteristics are worthy enough to be part of society and which are not. Glad argues that it is the society`s duty to discriminate against the disease but not against the victims. The United States Supreme Court Buck v Bell (1927) passed the law to sterilize people with intellectual disabilities and...
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