Disability Portrays Negative Connotations Theology Religion Essay Example
Disability Portrays Negative Connotations Theology Religion Essay Example

Disability Portrays Negative Connotations Theology Religion Essay Example

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  • Pages: 15 (3875 words)
  • Published: October 5, 2017
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The term "disablement" often carries a negative connotation associated with stigma. However, this perception primarily arises from society's definition and understanding of disability. Various factors such as socio-economic status, race, cultural background, and education level contribute to shaping this perspective. Society places great pressure on individuals to appear "normal," without any visible disabilities like blindness. In the past, blind individuals were not regarded as valuable or productive members of their societies.

The assumption was made that blind individuals were unable to catch fish for nourishment. Thus, it is clear to see how negative societal attitudes towards blindness developed and thrived over time, becoming further ingrained with each new generation. These attitudes still persist today. In my literature review, I will explore the social implications and studies conducted on blind individuals within various societal contexts. I wil


l also contemplate society's perception of them, both historically and presently. Furthermore, I will delve into the concept of disability and its significance to society, specifically the disabling effects associated with it. Lastly, I will examine the societal meaning of blindness and the consequences it brings.

This essay explores how societal stereotypes have categorized blind individuals and marginalized them. The author believes that negative perceptions of the blind should not be dictated by society. Additionally, the essay discusses how blindness is seen as a marker of diversity but should not be viewed negatively because blind people are simply different.

The essay begins by examining the social model of disability and its relevance to blindness. It delves into the definition of this model and its aspects.

Furthermore, the author shares their personal experience in interviewing a blind individual for this essay. The interview aims t

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understand what blindness and life with blindness mean to him, as well as how he navigates daily challenges. This analysis critiques the interview in alignment with the social model of disability.

Lastly, the author analyzes their interview experience and reflects on what they learned, what surprised them, and society's influence on perceptions. They highlight how we often accept societal stereotypes without critical thinking due to our lack of knowledge and ignorance.

Literature Review:

Disability is not just a health-related and medical matter, but a multifaceted phenomenon that arises from the interplay between an individual's physical attributes and their societal environment. In terms of the diversity aspect of blindness, this term carries various negative connotations and significances. "Blind" is linked to powerful negative implications and stereotypes, making it a marker of diversity as individuals who are blind or visually impaired are viewed as distinct from the majority perceived as "normal" within society.

According to Southwell (2012), many people desire to appear normal and behave in ways that are not noticeably different from the average norm. Blindedness is linked with negative stereotypes and has detrimental effects on social relationships and work in social settings. In addition to its primary meaning of lacking sight, another definition of blindness refers to 'lacking perception, awareness or judgment' as stated by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online in 2011. The Environics Poll (2008) conducted a global study which revealed that losing vision is the most feared disability, while blindness and cancer are the two most dreaded health conditions according to Southwell (2012). The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) finds the term 'blind' offensive since it implies shame instead of equality and portrays blind

individuals as dependent and obstinate.

The central idea is that we should not view blindness as a disadvantage but instead recognize blind individuals as capable and independent members of society. It is important for society to educate themselves about blindness and the lives of blind individuals in order to understand their abilities and participation in social events. The true problem with blindness arises from misconceptions and limited understanding of the diverse experiences within the blind community.

If a blind individual is given the necessary preparation, guidance, and opportunity to attain independence, their visual impairment is simply viewed as a physical inconvenience (National Federation of the Blind, 1999). However, negative attitudes towards disabled individuals are often coupled with misconceptions, biased beliefs, and inaccurate perceptions. Consequently, ineffective public policies are implemented that adversely affect the rehabilitation and job training received by blind people. These policies also have cascading effects on how blind individuals are treated and interacted with. Additionally, they influence the type and quality of education provided to blind children and teenagers. The achievements and education of renowned visually impaired individuals like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles illustrate that they possess the same diversity as the general population.

The negative stereotypes and misconceptions of blindness have existed for a long time. An old Middle Eastern proverb says, "when you see a blind man, kick him. Why should you be kinder to him than God has been?" (Maurer, 1989, 1999). This quote illustrates that blindness was seen as a punishment from God. Due to this negative perception, blind individuals have been discriminated against and victimized for centuries, being seen as cursed, useless, and dependent beggars (Jerigan, 1973, 1999). Throughout history,

only the negative aspects of blindness have been highlighted. It is these misconceptions and beliefs about blind people held by past generations that society, particularly the uneducated, still holds, leading to a negative view of blind individuals.

These negative attitudes promote favoritism, preventing us from recognizing that blind individuals can be literate, educated, and well-versed in society. Such perceptions are foreign and challenge our typical understanding of blind people. South Africa is often referred to as a rainbow nation due to its diversity in race, culture, gender, age, socio-economic status, and religion. However, the way South Africa views disability, especially blindness, varies widely.

Ghosh (2012) states that disability is a multifaceted issue with diverse interpretations and understandings among people. In numerous societies, individuals with physical or mental disabilities are deemed inferior because of their condition. The encounter of disability is influenced by social and cultural constructs that assign significance to disabilities and mold the interactions and experiences of disabled individuals in various historical and social settings. These attributes also differ depending on the socio-cultural and socio-economic status of different social groups. What distinguishes blindness as a distinct indicator of diversity is the fact that blind individuals are distinct from the rest of society.

People who are blind live a unique lifestyle as they require assistance when moving around, rely on devices like canes and guide dogs to help with walking, and use specific techniques for using computers and Braille for reading and writing. These differences lead society to view them as dependent and incapable. These social constructions of blindness have a significant impact on individuals with visual impairments, as their physical or cognitive limitations affect their daily experiences.

Studies have shown that young people with visual impairments may feel inadequate and inferior due to their lack of social acceptance, academic struggles, and physical disabilities (Beaty, 1992; Lopez-Justicia et al., 2001).

According to Dodds et al. (1994), when a person loses their vision, they go through various adjustments in behavior, motivation, cognition, and emotions. Hartup (1993) states that it is natural for humans to socialize and form friendships, which are lasting and mutual relationships that develop over a lifetime. Blind individuals often participate in passive activities like telephone conversations. In a study on the effects of accepting disabilities, Beaty (1992) found that not accepting blindness does not necessarily mean denying its existence.

The text highlights an awareness of the barriers caused by blindness. It indicates that individuals with eye impairments often view losing vision as the worst thing that could happen to them. They also acknowledge that being unable to see hinders their ability to participate in various activities. The survey suggests that it is not blindness itself, but rather the limitations imposed by blindness, which contribute to negative perceptions of blind individuals. Society tends to perceive them as intellectually challenged due to illiteracy in Braille, leading to a stereotype. Ultimately, raising awareness and educating about disability and blindness are crucial.

Having knowledge and understanding of blindness and how to approach, refer to, and communicate confidently with a blind person without considering them as useless or unintelligent is important. In order to view blind individuals as capable beings, one must be sufficiently educated about blindness and the stereotypes associated with it, and make an effort to avoid perpetuating them. Similarly, blind individuals also need to be well-informed

about their condition and disability in order to educate those who hold typical stereotypes of blind people. Dodds et al. (1994) presented a five-stage model for accepting disability, specifically in the case of blindness: empowering self-esteem, developing positive attitudes towards blindness through accurate information, helping individuals perceive themselves as having control over their actions, assisting individuals in accepting their disability, and increasing their self-efficacy.

A balanced self-concept is beneficial for individuals with disabilities in their current and future lives.


The attitude of the family and the public towards a person living with blindness greatly impacts their success. Overcoming obstacles, especially for young children like my interviewee, requires a strong support system. The individual I interviewed is a 21-year-old male who is currently pursuing a BSS degree at the UKZN campus.

The interview occurred on April 23, 2013. I have used the social model of disability to analyze and evaluate his responses to certain questions. This model examines disability in relation to what it states about blindness and acknowledges that physical issues are not the sole cause of disability. Instead, societal factors create exclusionary patterns deeply ingrained in society (Shakespeare, 1994; Hughes & Paterson, 1997). Consequently, a person's physical disability becomes the central focus of their identity, preventing them from participating in typical social activities and interactions.

The text highlights how individuals with physical impairments face disablement imposed on them by society. These limitations range from personal biases to institutional discrimination, inaccessible public buildings to non-functional transportation systems, segregated education to exclusion from employment agreements and environments. These examples demonstrate that discrimination is a societal norm and has long-lasting effects (Oliver, 1990). Silver (1998) argues that the inequality experienced by

disabled individuals is rooted in social practices that prevent them from showcasing their abilities. Society primarily evaluates the disabled based on their deficiencies, resulting in the provision of welfare benefits and services. Social deprivation categorizes disabled individuals as a vulnerable group, and practices are designed to exclude them from accessing civic and commercial goods and services (Silver, 1998).

The idea of considering blindness as a form of diversity should not focus on achieving a fixed state but instead should be viewed as an ongoing process to increase inclusivity. The ultimate goal is to recognize that blindness, as a disability marker, is influenced by the interaction between individuals and their external environment. Blind individuals face various challenges such as prejudice, stereotypes, bias, and discrimination. These societal attitudes have a greater impact in limiting opportunities compared to physical barriers. In contrast to other perspectives, the social model of disabled identity stands out by highlighting how cultural and media discussions about disability are often influenced by personal biases or depict extreme cases or emotionally weak stereotypes. The lack of disabled role models exacerbates inequalities and injustices experienced by disabled people. Our social identity is shaped through the process of socialization which begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. It is through ongoing interactions that our self-perception develops along with our perception of how others perceive us, ultimately shaping our social identity.

According to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (1997), sight loss is defined as a highly distressing experience, which suggests that losing vision creates a unique realm and changes one's sense of self. Nevertheless, society's excessive focus on blindness as a disability often overlooks the individual and impacts

their life results. Consequently, our perception of ourselves and who we are is shaped by how others classify us based on gender, social class, economic status, race, sexual orientation, and disability.

In the above information, it is discussed how disabled individuals, specifically those who are blind, often face prejudice and bias that negatively impacts their self-confidence and sense of self. The societal model of disability highlights the marginalization experienced by disabled people and their struggle to share their own experiences within a society that stigmatizes and disables them due to societal values and arrangements (Hahn, 1988; Morris, 1992).

Now I will explore the societal model of disability through an interview conducted with a blind student at UKZN. When asked about his self-identity, the interviewee expressed seeing himself as a normal person capable of most activities that "normal" individuals can do. However, he acknowledges the ongoing challenges he faces due to his visual impairment. It is important to note that the interviewee perceives himself as normal and believes that blind individuals can succeed by maintaining their mental "vision," characterized by determination, resilience, and perseverance even without physical sight. Blind individuals, particularly males, find humor in jokes about their own group regardless of whether these jokes come from blind colleagues or sighted friends.

It is a normal part of life for both sighted and visually impaired individuals to participate in societal interactions. Contrary to societal stereotypes and biases, blind people are not incapable or destitute. The societal model dictates that society should exclude disabled individuals, including the blind, from social interactions. However, this blind person considers themselves a normal being who is treated fairly and without discrimination by their family,

extended family, peers, and acquaintances. When asked about their identity, the interviewee chooses to identify as visually impaired rather than blind. This may be because the word blind carries negative connotations and invokes feelings of darkness and exclusion from society. Being labeled as blind means facing social, economic, and educational limitations.

It creates feelings of reliance, sympathy, and therefore blind individuals are not recognized as individuals with their own interests; instead, they are only identified by their disability. This aligns with the societal model, which suggests that a person may be impaired for various reasons, but society determines that they are disabled. Consequently, blind individuals avoid the label "blind" and prefer the term "visually impaired" as it allows for social acceptance and more opportunities in society and the economy. When the interviewee was seven years old, they began experiencing vision problems while still in elementary school.

He mentioned that he always had to be at the front of the class so that he could see the board. Eventually, he had to consistently sit at the front because his vision was getting worse. Such experiences can be confusing and traumatic for young people who are still immature and inexperienced. He explained that as the weeks went by, his vision started to decline. Both psychologically and socially, inactive children and adults often experience negative effects such as anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and poor self-efficacy (Morgan, 1994).

As a child, I was both socially outgoing and athletic. However, my life took a confusing and intimidating turn when I found myself sitting on the bench, metaphorically speaking, in a dark place. The reason for this decline was my inability to

see clearly what was written on the board at school, despite my efforts to get closer to it. I eventually confided in my parents about my vision problem and they took me to an eye specialist. It was there that I was diagnosed with ocular damage and informed that my sight would gradually deteriorate over time. In the meantime, I was given a pair of glasses with a strong prescription, hoping to slow down the progression of my vision loss. Unfortunately, my vision declined rapidly and the glasses became ineffective. However, throughout this difficult period, I found solace in having a strong support system with my family.

According to the interviewee, his parents played a significant role in his life when he was most vulnerable. They transferred him from his previous school to a specialized institution for visually impaired and blind children in Pietermaritzburg. At this new school, the interviewee received support and guidance from the school counselor. The counselor provided him with an understanding of his condition and taught him how to adapt to it. The interviewee believes that the counselor had a major impact on helping him adjust and made him realize that his life was not over just because of his visual impairment. The interviewee's perception that losing his sight would halt or end his life reflects society's prevailing ideology that equates blindness with a dead-end existence. Society tends to influence our emotions and thoughts through stereotypes and biases, encouraging conformity rather than independent thinking.

The societal theoretical account suggests that society sees a disability as something that cripples and deprives individuals of opportunities and a life after blindness. However, the urgent question is

why do we believe in these absurd notions that blindness means the end of the world? And why do we associate disability with being unintelligent, imagining a clumsy and poorly-dressed person? This happens because society has ingrained such ideas and representations of disability through the media, depicting a blind man as unable to dress himself, eat properly, or navigate from one place to another. It all boils down to a lack of education about blindness and the lives of blind people. Society is ignorant and as long as it doesn't directly affect a person's life, individuals will not bother to inquire about the cause or plight of those with disabilities.

The interviewee is aware of his disability. He believes that being blind is the most devastating disability because it requires some form of assistance. Sight is crucial. It allows you to observe sign language, interpret body language, read, and understand concepts that only the ability to see can provide.

After experiencing a loss of sight, there are significant challenges and changes to one's lifestyle. The interviewee specifically recalls feeling disabled when needing to travel, such as going into town to purchase goods. While this may be a simple and enjoyable task for someone with sight, it becomes daunting and frustrating for a blind individual, as the interviewee shares from personal experiences. Assistance is necessary in this situation, but the interviewee finds it difficult to find dependable travel companions, and the ones he does rely on are not always available. As a result, he feels like a burden and dependent on others.

The perception of blind individuals in society is that they are handicapped, destitute, and useless.

This societal perspective suggests that disability is a result of oppressive social constructs, where a person is judged solely based on their disability and nothing beyond it. This means that all stereotypes, biases, prejudices, and negative perceptions are associated with disabilities. Therefore, it is not surprising that society believes blind individuals are useless and completely dependent, lacking the ability to be self-sufficient. The obstacles faced by the interviewee are valid as they constantly require assistance in their studies and feel that the university lacks support for blind people's needs, making it not 'disability-friendly'.

The societal model perpetuates negative perceptions of disabled individuals as burdensome, incapable, and uneducated. This leads universities to be hesitant in accepting these students, particularly those who are visually impaired, as it would require additional expenses for obtaining materials with Braille lettering. Additionally, many lecturers find it inconvenient to search for compatible materials to accommodate the specific needs of visually impaired students. The interviewee expresses frustration over the lack of sports opportunities provided by the university for blind individuals. He mentions his love for sports when he had sight and even played blind cricket at his school in Pietermaritzburg after losing his vision.

According to Winnick (1985), participating in athletics made him feel good, active, and happy, and it also improved his self-esteem. However, blind students face challenges in activities such as throwing or catching a ball, balancing, striking, and spatial awareness. This is due to their limited physical activities tailored for blind individuals. As a result, blind people tend to have more body fat and lower cardiovascular endurance. Society struggles to grasp the idea that blind individuals can participate in sports without

their sight. This disregards the significance of other important senses in the body. It is worth noting that sports can be played by relying on hearing and feeling.

Due to society's inability to understand the importance of blind people participating in sports or being physically active, state laws and policies disregard the blind and disabled in terms of providing necessary interventions and support. Blind individuals are often seen as emotionless and society fails to recognize their frustration. As a result, there is a lack of focus on the basic needs of blind individuals, including the youth. All blind people are subjected to bias and mockery at some point in their lives. The interviewee shared his personal experience of facing bias and being called derogatory names like "impumputha" (meaning blind person in Zulu) by ignorant individuals who had little knowledge about blindness. Society adheres to a narrow view of how a person should be and look, deeming anyone who does not fit these ideals as abnormal and disabled.

Society often ignores the need to educate or be sensitive towards blind individuals because it doesn't align with the societal expectation of appearing normal. However, dispelling stereotypes and misinformation requires a thorough understanding of one's condition (blindness). Therefore, it is important for blind individuals to be knowledgeable about their condition and capable of educating and correcting ignorant individuals regarding the myths, stereotypes, and discrimination surrounding blindness. When asked how he deals with these stereotypes, the individual responded by acknowledging that he is now a mature adult who believes that those who perpetuate such stereotypes are uneducated and use him as a means to feel superior.

He chooses to associate with individuals

who understand and respect him for who he truly is. He possesses a strong sense of self and does not feel the need to compromise it by subscribing to society's common misconceptions. According to him, people should accept a person's personality before passing judgment. From his personal experience, he notes that blind individuals are often stereotypically believed to require assistance in every aspect of their lives, such as crossing the road or climbing stairs. The prevalence of self-pity towards blind individuals is a result of society's portrayal of them.

The common perception of blind individuals is that they struggle to take care of themselves and find every task challenging and uninteresting. This misconception is rooted in the lack of knowledge and education within mainstream society about blindness and the lifestyle of blind people. Due to this perception of inferiority and helplessness, blind individuals often evoke sympathy from others due to their "poor" appearance. However, the interviewee has developed a strong resilience towards allowing these stereotypes to affect them.

The person mentioned frequently chooses to ignore comments and walk away. However, there are times when he will respond by encouraging others to educate themselves about the experiences of visually impaired individuals, who do not solely rely on the side of the road to navigate through life. He takes pride in being an academic and prefers to spend time with people who understand and are knowledgeable about blindness. Due to cultural and media representations of blindness and preconceived notions of how a blind person "looks", people are often caught off guard when they encounter a well-groomed, articulate, and educated blind man. Besid

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