Disability as a Social Justice Imperative: Historical, Theoretical, and Practical Implications

Disability as a Social Justice Imperative: Historical, Theoretical, and Practical Implications

Adam Moore (Roger Williams University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9434-5.ch014
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Educators in the United States have the legal obligation to ensure that students with disabilities are given equitable access to an education. Under the Individuals with Education Act (2004), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against based on their disability and must be provided the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled counterparts. While most teacher preparation programs as well as educators in higher education are knowledgeable of these laws, there is a striking absence of learning about the historical implication of segregation, abuse, and maltreatment of individuals with disabilities that led to these laws being enacted. Most teacher preparation programs do not teach future educators about the history regarding disability rights and the social construct of disability. This chapter will present the major theoretical and historical movements in the disability rights movement, as well as the practical implications for educators today.
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Historical Perspectives of Disabilities

Throughout history people with disabilities have been labeled, excluded, abused, pitied, and tolerated—all in an effort to dehumanize and define what is “normal” (i.e. Baglieri, et al., 2011; Baker, 2002). These practices have been systematic and often lawful. The eugenics movement in the United States, for instance, legitimized that one’s intellectual ability could be categorized by race, particularly with the surge of immigration during the early 1900’s. The eugenics movement, was deemed a “scientific” way to determine a person’s intellectual capacity and worth in society (Winfield, 2007). During a time of increased immigration from Eastern European countries in the early 1900’s, eugenicists used race to cast categories of intelligence based upon the purity of one’s ancestry. The use of scientific concepts such as purity of one’s blood, in terms of racial purity, were used to segregate, label, and even sterilize (Winfield, 2007). A famous Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell (1927), found that individuals with intellectual disabilities could be sterilized “for the protection and health of the state.” Between 1920’s – 1970’s it is estimated that 65,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized (Stern, 2005).

The eugenics movement in the United States was widely followed and subscribed to by psychologists like Dr. Henry Goddard, who translated the Binet Intelligence Test into English (Gould, 1996). Though IQ testing has been shown to be an inadequate manner to determine one’s intellectual abilities (i.e. Gardner, 1993; Gould, 1996; Winfield, 2007), today IQ testing is still being used to label and categorize children in public schools.

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