The Americans with Disability Act might be understood as some form of governmental confirmation of the mostly ignored fact that people with disabilities have been largely discriminated. Prior to such, people with disabilities were not recognized as victims of so called hate crimes. Only those founded on someone’s belief that people of different race, religion, or sexual orientation deserve punishment. However, though crimes at people with disabilities might not be popular in today’s media, scorning someone for his inability to perform a physical act is as much of a crime than other forms of defamation. Interestingly, the government doesn’t mark people with disability as a minority group in society, yet as discussed earlier, support the social construction of the word disability through its medical model. We need to begin understanding that it is the environment we provide, which separates and makes people with disabilities as well as other oppressed groups appear abnormal – Inaccessibility, for instance, not a functional inability, causes limitations.
From a personal point of view, I am usually somewhat hesitant to mark a group a minority. It sounds to me like already attaching a stigma – making someone different by definition. Nevertheless, I enjoy being seen different, perhaps even be part of a minority. Either given my ethnicity, my belief system, or whatever else may distinguish us as individuals. What counts for me is that people are interested in discovering those differences.
I like questions about Germany, my culture, and even our not so flattering past. It shows me that people are open-minded, interested in the world, and that they care who I am. No matter how political incorrect questions I may encounter, it is a good start to establish a mutual understanding. If we would ‘treat’ people from marginalized groups the same way, I believe, we wouldn’t need to make them a minority, because we would accept and understand the ‘differences’ we perceive or experience. However, until we reach a point of a worldwide common understanding for the normalcy of individual differences, keeping hate crime statistics and grouping people into minorities, to allow their voice to be heard politically, might currently at least not be wrong.
The US constitution, and other similar documents around the world, have their origins as being pamphlets, written and agreed by a few – some who consider themselves as ‘normal’ and probably feeling superior compared to ‘others’. Though over the years various social movements took place, the sustainability of success is still unclear, largely due to an intensification of globalization, threatening equality.
Segregation starts on an individual level and soon becomes a stigma attached to a whole group, which is also true for people with disabilities. Society does not realize that the environment creates the equation of ‘disability’ meaning ‘uselessness’. We use definitions and make assumptions of defined groups; for instance, the abled-bodied or even the superiority of white-middle class male. Though the latter might be less vivid today, back in the day, the founding fathers of the United States, belonged to that group basing the constitution on THEIR image of ‘normality’.
However, not only must society understand and accept the environmental constraints we, the people, create; similarly, people from oppressed groups need to be vocal about their conditions, heritage, beliefs, etc. to establish a mutual understanding and gain acceptance. Resistance needs to be heard and felt. Marginalized groups require a political voice to reduce barriers, to create a wider understanding of what normal means and who is considered as such.
Generally, everyone is normal in its own regard, irrespective of any medical condition or characteristic we may perceive as being different. However, currently normalcy might be the biggest threat for a social movement, because society continuously categorizes individuals and groups, while attaching stigmas. So, we need to continue the fight and resist until we come to that understanding that there is in fact no distinction between normal and not.
Becoming invisible may happen on two levels: an individual’ hides from society or masquerades his true self. Considering the latter, I would like to refer to a rather personal experience: During my time as business consultant, I learned to be a great actor; all too often did I find myself living a lie and even believing that I was someone who I was clearly not. We could say that I was hiding my inner-self, or probably just didn’t understand who I am supposed or wanted to be. Slowly I began discovered my strengths and weaknesses, while particularly accepting the latter as being an inherent part of myself, helped me to find out what I really wanted, personally and with regards to my place in society. I started to understand that we are all equal, as every one of us has ‘superior’ abilities one way or another. Similarly, we also all carry flaws and to understand both is the challenge, but most likely also struggle that we face day in and day out.
Marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities, however, do not only face personal barriers, they also battle against societies’ wrongful assumptions of who they are and what they need. Society sanctions pity towards people with disabilities, we all shall try to find a ‘cure’ and it is believed that their condition must be treated. We may even punish an individual with a disability who is not thankful for society’s paternalistic attitude, though that person may not even want that type of support. We have our ways to push someone to appreciate things, which are neither wanted nor necessary. We keep on failing to realize that one’s self-esteem is at risk, while forcing someone to behave in a certain way. We take away that person’s ability to discover his own strengths and weaknesses, because we make him believe that only the latter is what society allows him to be – a victim of his flaws, manifested in some form of functional disability.
We may compare what has been said in the last paragraph with Western society’s obsession for beauty. Everyone who either doesn’t fit in that picture is considered to be not ‘normal’. For example, within the field of body-building, or recreational fitness more in general, the media populates a normality of muscular, lean women and men, even though only a few of us will ever be able to live up to that ‘ideal’. The models we see in the media, in magazines are anything but ‘normal’; in fact, they present the minority. However, society makes us believe that we all should and can strive for that lookalike, while for most of us, our genetic potential will prevent that ‘dream’ to ever come true. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if we stop chasing the impossible, accept ourselves the way we are, our flaws and weaknesses, and create an environment where it is accepted to be just ourselves?
When we get to know people with disabilities and other marginalized individuals, we may experience that some of them have answered those questions above and have established an empowering, a supportive atmosphere. We may wonder how they managed to do this, considering that they must have faced hardship. Stamina, assertiveness, and a positive attitude towards life may be some of the ingredients, but more generally it is probably the realization that they don’t need to be saved or cured; the understanding that despite their disability they are well capable of ‘saving’ themselves. This is not to be said that we all should become disabled, to develop those traits and habits. It is rather meant to create an understanding that we all get stronger with experience, if we believe in ourselves, if we understand that we are all human beings and that we are not any less normal than other people.
Maybe becoming invisible is part of it. It is likely that we need to feel different, to be excluded from social and cultural ties for a while, to escape the world a little, to day dream, and to see the things which are important and which make us special. Personally, I admire people who are able to take this ‘time out’ to search for their souls, given that I have had a hard time to do so myself in the past. Nonetheless, a word of caution, and though I believe it is a good experience to step out of this world for a little: we should not lose the ability to relate our dreams to reality and not to get overly hung up on those imaginations; sometimes we need to let go and find a new dream.