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Disability and the American Story (Taylor Segars)

Response to a lecture by Dr. Kim Nielsen

In the days of the slave trade in the United States, a slave was most useful if he or she was in pristine condition.  The slave was borderline useless with a disability such as blindness.  A slave ship in 1819 named La Rodeur carried hundreds of slaves to the United States. While on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean, 39 slaves lost their eyesight.  These slaves were rendered useless as a slave trader was quoted, “even those blind of one eye would sell for a mere trifle.” Since it was assumed that these slaves could not perform manual labor, they were thrown overboard. The slave holding ships were followed by sharks, so these slaves were all but dead the moment they reached the water.

Samuel A. Cartwright was an American doctor in the nineteenth century.  He was the inventor of the disease named Drapetomania, which was said to be a disease that caused the enslaved to attempt an escape. The African American body was considered to be inferior to that of a white American. Another disease that was said to be synonymous with an African American was Hebetude which cause laziness and the damaging of property.

Living with a disability would be very difficult in this day and age; however, hundreds of years ago it would have been even more difficult.  Prior to the industrialization of the United States, women with disabilities could work from their home; however during industrialization, as factories began to open, those with disabilities had a much more difficult time getting around, and it was difficult to even get to the factory.