No Better (or Worse) Time To Be Disabled

I acknowledge this is a bit of a weird question, but bear with me for just a minute: Has there ever been a better time to be disabled? I don’t mean to be smart, and I don’t mean to be cute. What I mean to say is that I am not aware of any society that has ever taken better care of its disabled members. And here I am thinking particularly of people with cognitive disabilities, though I’m sure we could extend the rule to every other form of disability. Historically, people with cognitive disabilities have been treated in the most inhumane ways possible. The bar has been set horrifically low.

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However, at this point in time, here in the Western world, we place great value on those who are disabled. I have disabled people in my family, in my church, and in my neighborhood, and I am often amazed at the incredible programs that are available to them. We are only a generation or two removed from speaking of people with cognitive disabilities using pejorative terms like “village idiot.” It’s only in the past few years we’ve stopped using “retard” as an insult. In days past, with disabilities typically received little education, gained little training, and had few opportunities.

Today, though, there’s a whole world of programs available to disabled people and their families. We try to find that balance between caring for their particular needs in ways that are fitting to their condition, while also doing our best to mainstream them into wider society as much as possible. Few things encourage me more than seeing people with obvious cognitive disabilities studying in public schools and working regular jobs. The grocery store near us and the Staples just around the corner both regularly and deliberately employ people with disabilities. I, like many others, love this and gladly bear with the inevitable “quirks” that come with the territory.

It is for these reasons and others that I contend that there has never been a better time to be disabled.

Yet that is not entirely true, is it? There is a horrific contradiction within our society. We invest great care in those who are born with disabilities, but only after investing every effort in eradicating them before they are born. There is a full out holocaust against unborn children with disabilities, the risk of disabilities, or even the possibility of disabilities. It is considered a sign of society’s progress that Down Syndrome has almost disappeared, yet that is only because nine out of every 10 are aborted before they are even born. It is considered socially responsible to identify and eliminate them before they get to full-term. Even as the world has become safer and better for those who are born with disabilities, the womb has become the most dangerous place of all. There is literally no worse place for a disabled child to be right now than inside his mother, for mortality rates there are nearing 100 percent. The place of ultimate refuge has become the place of ultimate peril.

So let me modify my original statement: Though there has never been a better time to be born with a disability, there has never been a worse time to be pre-born with a disability. This is one of our society’s most glaring contradictions, her most damnable sins.