The more things change the more they remain the same - From imbeciles to people with disabilities

07 Oct 2018

The good news is that there are no longer imbeciles and idiots in Botswana. They have been replaced by people with disabilities, thanks to political correctness.

The bad news however, is that we do not see much of them these days. They are hidden away from the public because it is still acceptable to keep them locked up. Physical and mental disabilities are still considered too distressing for the sensitivities of normal people.

Senior Sociology lecturer, Dr Sethunya Mosime says families neglect and hide their disabled family members a lot. “Much of the discomfort people feel about disability may stem from a lack of understanding, many are concerned that they will do or say the wrong thing when talking to disabled people or about disability. A person’s attitudes towards one disabled person might be shaped by their personal experience of knowing another disabled person and you find that these attitudes often affect the way people behave in particular situations or towards other people. Part of the reasons why families tend to hide their disabled family members is because people seem to be much more comfortable around people with more ‘visible’ disabilities than they are around people with less visible disabilities such as mental health conditions or learning disabilities. “She says negative attitudes and discrimination are worse towards people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities which is why parents and other family members choose to hide their disabled family members instead. 

Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Some people are born with a disabling health condition or impairment, while others may experience disability as a result of illness, injury or poor nutrition. Health conditions such as cerebral palsy, traumatic spinal cord injury, Down syndrome, hearing, visual, physical, communication and intellectual impairments are disabilities that most families shun and are ashamed of having. For a long time, social attitudes have reflected the view that persons with disabilities were unhealthy and defective. For centuries, society as a whole treated these people as objects of fear and pity.

For a long time, people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and/or epilepsy resided at home (still do) and were cared for by their families. The terminology used to describe people with disabilities has been changing in a bid to change societal attitudes.

Idiots, imbeciles and morons have been replaced by “mentally retarded” and “disabled. This was expected to assuage feelings of shame and guilt associated with giving birth to a child with a disability. There however has not been much success on this front.

Babusi Moyo a desktop services technician at Botswana Building Society says hiding and neglecting kids with disabilities is very real. “Sometimes parents can’t handle the fact that they have a disabled child in the family. The shame and thought of what people would say can be overwhelming. Some parents fail to take their children to school because they believe disabled children do not need education.

Tebogo Motlhanka a mother of three who works for Metropolitan Life shared with the Sunday Standard the burden of raising a child with disability. “Parents of children with special needs tend to be faced with a continuous barrage of challenges from societal isolation, financial strain, difficulty finding resources to outright exhaustion or feelings of confusion or burn out. Even with all these, hiding a child or family member because you are ashamed of them is never the way to go. The family is the first and most enduring unit of society and is usually the primary source of influence behind the formation of personality and the growth of an individual.”