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Disability and the American Story (Taylor Charles)

What I pull from this lecture that lines up with class concepts is segregation of a minority of people. Whether it be segregation via gender roll (women in the early colonial era), or the maltreatment of an entire ethnic population (slavery of black and disrespect of Native Americans), discrimination towards peoples is a very constant subject in the study of early American history.

One of Dr. Kim Nielsen’s examples was Helen Keller, the famous physically handicapped woman who was labeled, by whom I remember to be anti-feminists, one of the “top 10 most dangerous women.” From Dr. Nielsen’s perspective, Keller did far more than stand up for women’s rights; she took a defensive stance in the name of all people who could qualify as “disabled.” This included anyone who could be segregated for any reason at all in a society, such as individuals who represented certain races, genders, and religions. It did not merely include people who were incapacitated due to some malicious physical feature.

It’s hard to believe that people would segregate someone for simply possessing a physical disability. Americans have even disrespected people who don’t look “like a normal person,” taking Charles Steinmetz as an example. He was, according to Dr. Nielsen, an internationally recognized “brain.” He is the man who created the alternating current model of the electrical circuit, which is the system we install in our homes to this very day. When he moved to the United States, people made fun of his appearance, labeling him as a “Jewish, poor-physique hunchback” when he clearly should have been given nothing less than the highest praise as a scientist.

I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in Dr. Nielsen’s presentation. I felt that, instead of learning about a history of disability in the United States, I was being persuaded to accept an opinion on our country’s saddening history of disability segregation. There are plenty of people who don’t feel segregated by society today due to their physical features. I’m diabetic and I have never felt, in any way, segregated due to my disability. Sure, people may have been jerks about this sort of deal in the past, but I highly doubt anyone still pursues this ideology today.