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Contemporary understandings of disability derive from concepts that arose during the West's scientific Enlightenment; prior to the Enlightenment, physical differences were viewed through a remarkably different lens. During the Middle Ages, madness and other conditions (epilepsy, e.g.) were thought to be caused by demons; on the other hand, they were also thought to be part of the natural order, especially during and in the fallout of the Plague, which wrought impairments throughout the general population. In the early modern period there was a shift to seeking biological causes for physical and mental differences, as well as heightened interest in demarcating categories: for example, Ambroise Pare, in the sixteenth century, wrote of "monsters," "prodigies," and "the maimed." The European Enlightenment's emphases on knowledge derived from reason and on the value of natural science to human progress helped spawn the birth of institutions and associated knowledge systems that observed and categorized human beings; among these, the ones significant to the development of today's concepts of disability were asylums, workhouses, prisons, and clinical spaces in which medicine was practiced. 
Contemporary concepts of disability are firmly rooted in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments. Foremost among these was the development of clinical medical discourse, which made the human body visible as a thing to be studied, manipulated, and transformed. These worked in tandem with scientific discourses that sought to classify and categorize and, in so doing, became methods of normalization. The concept of the "norm" developed in this time period, and is signaled in the work of the French statistician Alphonse Quetelet, who wrote in the 1830s of l'homme moyen – the average man. Quetelet postulated that one could take the sum of all people's attributes in a given population (such as their height or weight) and find their average, and that this figure should serve as a norm toward which all should aspire. This idea of a statistical norm threads through the rapid take up of statistics gathering by Western European states, Britain, and the United States during this time period, and it is deeply tied to the rise of eugenics. It also served as the soil out of which concepts of disability would gestate, since once a norm is defined, a set of other concepts – nonnormal; abnormal; normalcy – adhere around it. The circulation of these concepts is evident in the popularity of the freak show, where showmen profited from exhibiting people who deviated from those norms. 
With the rise of eugenics in the latter part of the nineteenth century, such deviations were viewed as dangerous to the health of entire populations. With disability viewed as part of a person's biological make-up and thus their genetic inheritance, scientists turned their attention to notions of weeding such deviations out of the gene pool. Various metrics for assessing a person's genetic fitness arose – for example, IQ tests, still in use today – which were then used to deport, sterilize, or institutionalize those deemed unfit. At the end of the Second World War, with the horrible example of Nazi eugenics near at hand, eugenics faded from public discourse, and increasingly disability cohered into a set of attributes that medicine could attend to – whether through treatment, rehabilitation, augmentation, and so forth.
In the early 1970s, disability activists began to challenge not only how society treated people with disabilities but also the heavily medical approach to disability. Out of their work identifying how material barriers to access constituted conditions that functionally disabled them emerged what is today know as the social model of disability. Coined by Mike Oliver in 1983, this phrase distinguishes between the medical model of disability – under which an impairment needs to be fixed – and the social model of disability – under which the society that limits a person needs to be fixed. 
Date : 5/18/2016 Share This News :    

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