Moral and Ethical Issues and the Foundation of Special Education

The disability topic has always elicited a lot of debate whenever it is mentioned .Throughout the history of humanity, there have been conflicting viewpoints concerning disability. The difference in perspectives depends entirely on the available policies about people with special needs together with the level of awareness in the society. The term disability is very broad and people have always argued about the real definition of disability.

Disability is a condition that entails physical impairments that eventually lead to inability of the person to fully participate in day to day life activities. These physical limitations together with the general perspectives of the society constitute the complicated concept of disability. This essay will discuss the various disability philosophies and issues of the 19th century in comparison with the current ones. Disability philosophies have contributed a great deal in the way the disabled people are treated in the society.

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Disability occurs as a result of impairments that limit the normal functioning of the body. When the body subsystems are impaired in one way or another, the person becomes physically restricted in performing some essential functions (Meade & Serlin, 2006). The visual, sensory or auditory systems are key to the normal functioning of the body.

When these subsystems are impaired, the person qualifies to receive special treatment. Any impairment that limits the motor ability of the body is termed as a physical disability. There are other categories of disabilities including mental retardation, developmental disability and social disabilities. The disability condition can be acquired in one’s lifetime or one can be born with disability (Jaeger, 2009).

There have been a lot of issues surrounding disability. The first issue arises in the name they should be called. Many people with disabilities feel offended when referred to as disabled. This has always sparked a lot of argument about the right name to be used to refer to them.

The disability rights activists have been very critical on the use of this name arguing that many people are prone to become disabled due to accidents and illnesses. The issues of masculinity and feminism have a great effect on disabled people. Disabled men are forced to re-define masculinity not based on their physical abilities but on their ability to face life with courage and optimism despite their condition (Jaeger, 2009).

Disabled women face double tragedy because they have to confront feminism and disability at the same time. Apart from facing the stigma associated with disabled people, they also face the issue of discrimination against women. These women are charged with a heavy responsibility of fighting the two wars.

There are two models associated with disability. The societal model and the medical model are very different from each other in terms of philosophy. In medical terms, disability is viewed as a personal problem that requires professional medical care and treatment. The main issue in the medical model is treatment and care of the disabled people wich can be enhance by comprehensive health care policies that cater for the people with disabilities.

In the societal context, disability is seen as a problem created by the society (Carlson, 2009). The situation can only be managed by appropriate social actions involving all the stakeholders in the community. Social change ensures equality in access to opportunities regardless of one’s condition.

The disability history is wide and quite intriguing as well. Although there were issues and philosophies concerning disabled people from the 17th century, the 19th century experienced increased awareness and viewpoints about disability. During the 19th century, disability was seen as a race issue (Derlin & Pothier, 2008).

The whites saw themselves as the normal people and the rest of the races were viewed as abnormal. In the industrialization period, women were also regarded as disabled because of their excessive emotions and physical weaknesses (Meade & Serlin, 2006). This claim denied women a chance of participating in politics and industrial work. At this point, disability was also defined on gender basis. In the industrialized western countries, disability was seen as the reversal of the evolution process (Meade &Serlin, 2006).

The disability issue was so serious that some immigrant countries went ahead to formulate laws that block would disabled people from entering their countries. People with physical and mental disabilities were the most affected by the laws. Acts of criminality and immorality were condemned in the strongest of terms by these nations. Immorality and criminality were seen as signs of mental disability (Derlin & Pothier, 2008).

The immigrant nations continued with their concerted efforts to lock out disabled immigrants by revisiting the race issue. They believed that certain races and nationalities were more prone to physical and psychological impairment than others. They tightened their restrictions on these nationalities terming them as undesirable in their countries.

In the late 19th century, some Western countries like the U.S established disability centers where the disabled people could be gathered and restrained. This was an attempt to separate them from the rest of the (Carlson, 2009). Children with cognitive and psychological impairments formed the majority of those in the centers.

The disability definitions and philosophies have changed a great deal in the 21st century. Various international organizations like the World Health Organization have come into place and completely revolutionnalised disability viewpoints and policies. The attitudes about people with disabilities have completely changed in recent times.

The traditional mind set about disabled people is continually being erased from the minds of people thanks to concerted awareness efforts put in place by various Government and Non-Governmental Organizations (Derlin & Pothier, 2008).

The disability is not inability campaigns have borne much fruits because disabled people can now be recognized in the society. The traditional notion that disabled people are beggars has been proved wrong because this group of people have proved that they can also work and earn their daily bread without depending on anyone (Ralson, 2009).

The number of disabled people working in different organizations has been improving over the years. Disability rights activists have been at the forefront in fighting for equal access to opportunities. The 21st century has experienced an increase in the number of special schools all over the world to cater for the special needs of disabled students. It has been proved that children with disabilities can actually score good grades in school if given the required facilities and support.

The public and health policies are instrumental in ensuring people with disabilities receive equal treatment and opportunities (Ralson, 2009). Governments who are reluctant to formulate and enact disability policies have been put under a lot of pressure by international bodies on human rights to comply with the specified conditions. The 21st century has experienced a lot of positives concerning disability rights.

The disability history from the 19th century to now has seen tremendous changes that are worth looking at. The immigration restrictions imposed on people with disabilities in the 19th century are now a thing of the past. The international immigration laws forbid denial of entry to a certain nation on the basis of disability. People with disabilities can now enjoy the freedom of moving in any country of their choice without facing discrimination (Marshall, 2009).

The other current positive is that people with disability can now be given a chance to go to school and pursue their dreams just like anyone else. This was actually beyond imagination in the 19th century. In the 19th century, disabled people were viewed as outcasts who were not needed in the society. They were branded useless and enable to achieve anything in life (Marshall, 2009).

The race issue in the 19th century was a serious issue that promoted a lot of hatred and sheer brutality .The notion that some races were prone to physical and psychological impairments than others is actually fallacious. The recent campaigns against racism have actually helped in reducing incidences of racism allover the world.

In the modern world, disability is no longer defined in terms of race but in terms of one’s physical and psychological conditions (Meade & Serlin, 2006). The modern man has realized that the condition of disability is not a reserve of some nationalities and races but can be faced with everyone (Marshall, 2009).

The viewpoints and philosophies about disabilities in the 19th century were very discriminatory and unfair in all terms. Coming to think of being denied access to a certain country because of your condition is actually dehumanizing and unfair. It is a pity that those people had no idea that disability is a condition that anyone can get into.

The idea of defining disability in terms of race is actually absurd. There is no superior race than the other in terms of cognitive and mental abilities. There were some reported cases where disabled people were even killed or completely alienated from the rest of the society because they were seen as undesirable. The perpetrators of those brutal acts did not even consider if they were the ones in a similar situation.

In conclusion, the philosophies on disability have been changing over time. The 19th century experienced a dark phase in the life of disabled people all over the world. The discrimination and the acrimony of the people living with disabilities sparked a lot of international outcry for the recognition of disability rights by Governments all over the world.

International bodies on human rights have played a major role in notifying the disabled about their rights and at the same time pushing for policy reforms that would accommodate people with disability. These efforts have borne fruits because discrimination against people with disabilities has declined significantly.


Carlson, L. (2009). The faces of intellectual disability: Philosophical reflections. New York, NY: Indiana University Press.

Devlin, F.R & Pothier, D. (2008). Critical disability theory: Essays in philosophy, politics, policy and law. New York, NY: UBC Press.

Jaeger, P.T et al. (2009). Disability matters (Gpg) (PB). New York, NY: IAP Publishers.

Marshall, C.A. (2009). Disabilities: Insights from across fields and around the world. Praeger Perspectives, 1, 38-66.

Meade, T. & Serlin, D. (2006). Disability and history. Radical History Review, 94, 98-218

Ralson, P.C. & Ho, J. (2009). Philosophical reflections on disability. Philosophy and Medicine, 104, 22-58.


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