Then and Now: Treating People with Disabilities


How the Past Perception toward Disability Is Vastly Different Today


The medical world has certainly come a long way, what with great advances in science and technology making our lives easier. This comes to many as a relief, knowing that the tasks that they have struggled in before will be a thing of the past, more so to those who are disabled yet functional members of society.

Then and Now Treating People with Disabilities

Those who were not able to walk after suffering from leg or spinal disabilities are now able to play basketball because of the creation of the wheelchair. There is a pill for everything, and managing mental disabilities is also very doable in this day and age. Nobody would bat an eye seeing an armless person driving around. Truly, we are living in a future world.


But it was never always like this—back then, there were extreme social stigmas to those suffering from mental disabilities, and people with physical ones were treated as pariahs. Isn’t it great that society is trying to overcome those perceptions?


Here are the ways people with disabilities were treated and how they eventually changed over time.


Disabled babies were “removed to another place”


The Greeks thought people with health problems were inferior, and they killed the babies who showed deformities at birth. Thankfully, we don’t practice that anymore, because understanding of how children with disabilities can grow up functional in society has helped the perspective of people.


Mentally disabled people were exorcised


Mental disability was often linked to either being blessed by divine powers or possessed by evil spirits. The religious leaders would often torture people as a means of exorcising them. Although there are some instances of exorcisms in this day and age, we can only be thankful that the rest of the world has gone past that stage.


Disabled people were rejected by society and treated as outcasts


This was fairly common, and many disabled people were abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Now we have welfare and health care for those who cannot help themselves.


People with mental disabilities were lobotomized


The horrific treatment of people with mental disabilities is well documented. The doctor would create a hole in the front part of the skull and cut the frontal lobe. This caused quite a controversy and was, thankfully, replaced with antipsychotic medication.


Some treatments of mental disabilities were borderline torture, and for families to put their loved one through that back then versus how people with schizophrenia and other such mental disabilities are treated now is really a good sign. There is less stigma, and they have become more accepting, creating a far-better world than that in the past.


Have the perceptions of people toward the disabled really changed? What improvements do you think can society try to achieve? Let’s discuss this in the comment section below.



Munyi, Chomba Wa. 2012. “Past and Present Perceptions Towards Disability: A Historical Perspective.” Disability Studies Quarterly. Accessed on April 24, 2017.



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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD