Human progress can be frustrating. As far as disability goes, the world is getting more progressive and open minded. At the same time, medical treatments that eradicate disabilities are becoming more prevalent. Prenatal screening is improving, and pregnancies that involve birth impairments like Downs Syndrome and Spina Bifida are being terminated faster and in higher numbers. Cochlear implant technology is becoming more mainstream, and children who are born deaf are often implanted before the child can even know that they are deaf or make the decision themselves. Although medical advancement is important to our world, we can’t let it completely replace the acceptance of people with these differences.
Disability has become a culture with many different subgroups, but can also assimilate into mainstream culture. Deaf people have created their own language, education systems, and entertainment. People with all kinds of physical disabilities have their own kinds of sports that are slowly becoming more mainstream. People with Downs Syndrome are being given jobs in the workforce, and are being accepted to colleges in higher numbers. People across the spectrum of disability are becoming a part of the way our world runs as doctors, lawyers, educators, businessmen, and artists. These advancements are not being given or taken as consolation prizes in lieu of being given “normal physical ability”. These advancements go to show that the objective of many people in these groups is not to be cured, changed, or eliminated. People connect very deeply with the life that they are given, and this provides so much depth to human understanding and culture.
If we think that the curing of disability is more important than acceptance, we also fail to understand the human experience. Everyone has obstacles they have to face at some point. Just because a person’s life obstacles are more unique doesn’t necessarily make them worse.
If we let medical advancement take priority over acceptance, we also run the risk of creating “acceptable prejudices”. For example, there is nothing wrong with a person in a wheelchair wanting to be able to walk. Being able to walk is a personal goal of many people with disabilities who lost the ability to walk, and those people deserve to be given the opportunity to reach that goal if possible. However, there are also many people who are happy with their disability, and view it as a part of their identity. Either way, no one deserves to be told that the way they are isn’t good enough.
Lastly, if we aren’t careful about the way we use medicine in relation to disability, many people will start blaming the victim of disability discrimination instead of the discrimination itself. When a person with a disability is unable to get inside a public building, the problem is not that the person has a disability. We have ramps and elevators, and the placement of these accommodations is the law. When someone faces work place discrimination, the problem is not that the person has a disability. The problem is that some employers don’t understand that people with disabilities have a wide range of abilities, and that equal opportunity is the law. When a child with a disability is teased or bullied on the playground for their disability, the problem is not that they are “too different”. The problem is that we live in a world of increasing acceptance, and disability is yet to be fully accepted.
Human diversity is like a stream, and if we aren’t careful medical advancement can become a predator of that stream. Modern medicine should do its best to prevent people from living in pain, or cure them of their pain. However, we also need to remember that living with pain is not exclusive to disability. We need to remember that living differently can also bring unique meaning and purpose to people’s lives. If we don’t, then the stream will not have changed to become a better place to live. The stream will only have had its members hunted to extinction, and we will fail to learn a vital lesson. There is no standard formula for human achievement, and no scale for bodily perfection. These are measurements that we create on our own.