Log in

No account? Create an account

Woefully Afflicted?

In the Victorian era, society assumed that people with disabilities were "woefully afflicted" in that they had a horrible lot in life and were woeful and sad about it all the time. They used disability in novels as a way to escape from reality. Disability was supposed to be such an emotional thing. It was supposed to make you feel like whatever struggles you faced in the new Industrial Age were not that bad. Hence Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. We don't know why he limped, how it happened, or how he felt about it. All we know is how it impacted Scrooge. When Helen Keller was little, someone wrote that she didn't exhibit the characteristics of other people with disabilities because she didn't seem sad at all. When these people didn't conform to the "woefully afflicted" image, society thought there was something even more wrong with them.

Fortunately, although at times unfortunately, I was raised in a family and a community that had absolutely no interraction with PWD. I was never treated like I was afflicted, except in church I think. Teachers and family never let me feel afflicted, even though I rarely wanted to. When I did want to, though, they refused to let me which was not good. I mean, everyone has those "pity party" moments where they just want to feel sorry for themselves and have someone else support them. I never got that. My family, especially my mother, is completely devoid of the idea of how hard it sometimes can be. They just think I'm whining on the rare occassion that I do get a little down in the dumps. So in a way, my life has been the exact opposite of the "woefully afflicted" stereotype.

Do you guys ever feel like people expect you to be afflicted and sad about your life? Or do people act the exact opposite way? Or something in between? 


In college, I took a class on Germany through the years 1914-1945. The class was great (I love to learn about Germany at that time) and when it came time to do the research paper, I asked my professor if I could write about the disabled in the Holocaust. Sadly, she didn't know the disabled were even targeted - and she was born and grew up in Germany.

I wrote the paper, but wish there was more about that subject in books. I still constantly read and look at websites about the Holocaust - it's a part of history I have always been interested in learning about.


One of the basic precepts of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions from earliest times is charity. Charity is normally considered to be a good thing and in some ways it is, but the attitudes that charity has bred in the past have led to some enduring legacies that disabled people find offensive. The idea that giving charity was a way of achieving God’s grace led to pitying or patronizing attitudes towards disabled people.

Do you feel that that is still the case today?

 While we're talking about Nazi propaganda, here is a picture I used in my Honors Thesis. It's a Nazi poster depitcting some people behind a fence in an asylum and it reads "Life without hope."


Propaganda films

Hitler’s Germany used film to great effect to reach the masses. As well as feature films, film was used as documentary propaganda. The Racial and Political Office made five films:

• Sünden der Vater (Sins of the Fathers, 1935)
• Abseits vom Wege (Off the Path, 1935)
• Alles Leben ist Kampf (All Life is a Struggle, 1937)
• Was du ererbt (What you have inherited, 1929)
• Erbkrank (Heredity, 1936).

Erbkrank, intended to criminalise, degrade and dehumanise the mentally and physically impaired, was silent and shot in black and white. The victims were manipulated to make them appear horrific, with superimposed captions of the cost of keeping them alive. Using direct interviews with disabled people, cleverly lit and staged, filmed from below and cut to make them appear very different from ordinary workers, it made the audience sympathise with compulsory sterilisation and, later, mercy killing. By Hitler’s order, it was shown in all German cinemas.

Themes today

Many of the prejudiced attitudes that still exist today have their foundations in these longstanding historical influences.

Various aspects of medical treatment and care in the UK, USA and Europe are causing great concern to the disability movement, eg:

• Cut-backs in the welfare state, rationing health care;
• ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ policies (decided by medical staff) for some disabled people;
• Growing demands for voluntary euthanasia which, in some cases, can be misused to dispose of a ‘burdensome’ disabled person;
• The prospect of designer babies, using the knowledge gleaned from the Genome Project, further marginalising people with impairments.

A list of people in history who might not have existed if such policies had operated in the past would include:

Beethoven (deaf)

Toulouse Lautrec (short stature)

Stephen Hawking (motor neurone disease)

Einstein (dyslexic)

Byron (club foot)

F.D. Roosevelt (polio in both legs and unable to walk unaided).

Winston Churchill (depression)

Helen Keller (deaf, blind)

Tanny Grey Thompson, athlete (spina bifida) … and many others.


If anyone is interested, the community picture is of Carrie Buck and her mother Emma, who were both institutionalized in the Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded in Lynchburg, VA. Carrie was supposed to be sterilized under VA's new sterilization law and her cas made it to the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell. In 1927, the Court held up Va's law and sterilized Carrie.

Oh, and I took off the adult content thing... not sure how that got on there...

"Shallow End of the Gene Pool"

Rob (my husband) used the phrase "shallow end of the gene pool" while we were watching a movie last week. It's a phrase I've used in the past. But last week was different, because now I know where that phrase originated from.

And I don't think it's funny anymore.

I don't think it's funny because I know that people with "feeblemindedness" (i.e., epilepsy, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, or "loose morals") used to be sterilized, by force, in the US, and that our eugenics program was an "inspiration" to the Nazis.

I don't think it's funny anymore because society assumes a life with a disability is worth less than a life without one.

I don't think it's funny anymore because a fetus with a disability, or with a high chance of having one, is more likely to be aborted than a fetus without one.

I don't think it's funny anymore because I used to think that it would be better for me not to have a baby than to risk having one with JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis), because I didn't want to put the child "through that".

I don't think it's funny anymore because I know what it felt like to get off of the Special Ed bus with all my classmates watching, assuming I was Less of a Person than they were.

I don't think it's funny anymore.


Hi everyone! I hope to get some good discussions going here about disability history or anything related. I hope there is some interest in this community since there really isn't anything else on LJ like this (at least that has ever been updated.) I hope you all enjoy yourselves and learn something while you're at it! :) Feel free to post something to get us started!