THE BLOG

We Need To Reject The Idea That Disability Equates To Misery

Our world is built for able bodies and we never think twice about that.

28/07/2016 9:56 AM AEST | Updated July 28, 2016 10:44
Kyodo / Reuters
Police officers in front of the facility for the disabled where 19 people were killed and 25 wounded by a knife-wielding man, in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan.

Satoshi Uematsu, 26, killed 19 people and injured another 25 in a centre for disabled people near Tokyo, Japan, this week. He did so under the premise that he wanted to rid the world of disabled people.

In February he sent a letter to a politician outlining his plan. He reportedly said he wanted people with disabilities to "be euthanised with the consent of their guardians" .

He went on to say that "there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery."

Thankfully, this kind of news, this kind of extreme hate crime against people in the special needs and disabled community is not common. Thankfully, when we see this on the news, our hands fly to our faces in horror because it is so rare. We should be horrified. It is horrifying.

But I don't think it follows that we can be entirely surprised. This man's views, while clearly influenced by mental health issues, were not created in a vacuum. He did not come up with his dehumanised view of people with disabilities all on his own. He shares these views, albeit watered down, with many people around the world.

It is easy for us to condemn him, and we should. But we also need to think about how those ideas came to be. Where did he get the idea that disability equates to misery?

The average person watching this story on the news will take a sharp intake of breath, condemn him and move on. They will see themselves and their own views on disability and special needs as being light years from this man's extreme actions. But the reality is that we live in a world where disability and special needs are 'othered' to the point where they are viewed with pity and ridicule by many, not just by men like this.

We may not all desire for "the handicapped to disappear" as he did, but we do live in a world where life for someone with special needs or disability can be incredibly difficult, and not because of their disability per se, but because the world is not built for them and will not bend to suit their needs. It is built for able bodies and we never think twice about that.

We live in a world where the word "retard" is thrown around without a second thought. We live in a world where finding out your child has been born with special needs or disability requires a grieving process and mourning because that way of life is not preferred.

We live in a world where funding for special education must be fought tooth and nail, and where cuts are being made regularly because there are more important places for governments to place their money.

We live in a world where if people really looked inside themselves, they might find that while they would never want to rid disability from the earth, they also would not wish it on themselves or their children -- they would avoid it at all cost, if they could.

We live in a world where every 10 years the language used to describe disability and special needs has to be refreshed because the current terminology has become something negative. It's not the words that are the problem, it's our views on disability that send tendrils of pity and disgust through those otherwise harmless nouns, suffocating them of all their meaning and turning the word "special" from a signifier to an insult.

I don't want to live in that world anymore. I want an event like this to force us to do more than just condemn these actions. I want us to be reflective and honest with ourselves about our feelings around disability. I want to live in a world where it's not just those who are immediately affected by disability and special needs who understand that while there are challenges -- and I would never deny that there are -- there is also beauty and gratitude and love in this world of special needs and disability.

I want to live in a world where life with special needs or disabilities isn't difficult because there are supports and funding for both the person themselves and their carers. This should not a life to be pitied, or seen with disgust, this should be a life to be celebrated. We cannot pass judgement on the value of someone's life because the way they live does not look like what we imagined a good life to look.

But we do. And it needs to stop. Otherwise if another Uematsu, hate-filled event happens, we can no longer be shocked. We will be complicit. We will know this man was not created out of nothing. His views came from somewhere. We need to be honest about where that is, and change it.

More On This Topic
Advertisement

FOLLOW HUFFPOST

Advertisement