Publication Date

March 2003


[Excerpt] There is considerable historical and anthropological evidence that impairment is a human constant and that cultural responses to perceived abnormalities of the body and mind vary across time, culture and place. It is equally evident that throughout recorded history western society has systematically discriminated against or excluded various groups of people on the basis of perceived biological inferiority, and that this exclusion became systematic following the material and ideological changes associated with capitalist development.

The combination of industrialisation, urbanisation, and associate ideologies including: liberal utilitarianism, Social Darwinism, and Eugenics, provided ‘scientific’ legitimacy to ancient myths, fears and prejudices, and the gradual but intensifying commodification of every day life. As a result 'work' became almost exclusively associated with wage labour and paid employment. This precipitated the development of an employment infrastructure geared to the needs of those deemed 'capable' of this type of activity.

Hence, those considered incapable of work, and labelled 'disabled' were, apart from in, and immediately following, times of war, excluded from the workplace. This legacy remains with us today. Discrimination against disabled people is therefore institutionalised in the very fabric of western society; consequently, disabled people encounter a whole range of material, political and cultural barriers to meaningful mainstream employment and social participation.