Friday, April 24, 2009

Leper, Plague, & Acceptance

What is normal? How do we identify what is abnormal or deviant? Why does difference and deviance make some in society so dang uncomfortable? In The Short Bus: The Journey Beyond Normal, Jonathan Mooney explains his view of how deviance is dealt with in our society: “I believe there are two fundamental paradigms for controlling deviance in our culture. In the model of the leper, the deviant is exiled from the community. But the second, the truly defining model for our culture, is the model of the plague. In the plague model the sick are constantly being watched” (p. 81).

Mooney’s model of the leper is apparent in the use of institutions. In the nineteenth century, French educators of the deaf and blind, established training schools. Initially the goal was to assist these individuals and then reintegrate them back to society, but the latter part of this was lost along the way. Mooney states: “In the mid-1900s it was common for people of all political stripes to talk about the ‘menace of the feeble mind.’ Cognitive minorities were no longer gentle fools. They were dangerous and in need of ‘total institutionalization’” (p. 153). Enter the time of the leper.

But in the 1970s there was a paradigm shift. More and more individuals with cognitive disabilities were kept at home and in the community. This was an improvement from the time of the leper, but in entered the plague. People with disabilities were noticed, stared at, watched, monitored, assessed, evaluated, diagnosed, labeled, etc. This still happens, and I do all these things too. But with Quinn, I see the importance of not just putting people in boxes. I am learning more about true acceptance and expanding what I view as being normal, for as Mooney states: “Disability and normalcy are ideas we create as a culture and society and something we can transform” (p.259).

Will there be a third paradigm of acceptance? That is what we are working towards – one step at a time. We can transform how we see disability in our society.


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