In this latest YUFE Diversity and Inclusivity blog, Tino Vodanović, Master of Cultural Studies, University of Rijeka Alumni, discusses the taboo around disability.

Throughout history a taboo has been formed around disability.

Though the extent of the taboo varies from society to society, it is safe to say that the taboo still lives on today despite the constant efforts to make disability part of the mainstream.

There are many possible reasons behind this taboo.

For this blog I would like to focus on evolutionary reason, which is applicable not just to disability but to almost any marginalized social group.

If we take a brief look at the evolution of humans, we know that from its earliest age it has developed a set of trigger warnings to be able to indicate potential danger. These trigger warnings have passed from generation to generation and retained a part of our collective subconscious to this day.

If we connect that to people with disabilities, their appearance could elicit contagion fear because they deviate from the social norms because of the way they look or behave and are therefore viewed as dangerous and/or contagious by the people that are or were closer to the norm.

As our societies have got more advanced, the ways in which we express this fear has also changed.

Nevertheless, fear is still present today and, in my opinion, manifests itself in the fact that we feel uncomfortable when we are around people who deviate from the socially accepted norms, especially if we have never interacted with them or if we are interacting for the first time.

The point that I would like to make is that this feeling of discomfort is mutual. Society teaches us from an early age that socially acceptable norms exist, simultaneously enforcing existing ones and helping us to create our own personal socially-acceptable norms. It is telling us on multiple societal levels that people that do not fit in these norms are “different”.

Constant exposure to this mindset brings us to a situation where many people start to accept and potentially believe in the values imposed by society. This means that people with disabilities, being constantly told that they are “different”, feel the discomfort when they are approaching able-bodied people, especially ones that a person with disabilities does not know.

On the other hand, based on my research and conversations with my able-bodied peers, able-bodied people can feel discomfort because they are afraid to start the communication, mostly because they do not know how to approach a person with disabilities in an acceptable way.

While the primary roots of discomfort could be traced to the historical contagion fear which has evolved over time and became more and more subtle, nowadays, among other things, it can be expressed through the beauty and bodily standards imposed by societies.

I personally find the mutual feeling of discomfort very interesting because, in my opinion, it can serve as evidence that the difference between people with disabilities and able-bodied people is socially constructed due to the existence of socially acceptable norms.

Because of that, I think it is important to understand these feelings in order for a society to be able to start excepting people that do not fit in the socially acceptable norms.

More importantly, this theory is not just applicable to the interactions between people with disabilities and able-bodied people. On the contrary, it is applicable when it comes to the interactions between almost any marginalized social group and those who make up the majority of a society.

For this reason, I think that it is very important that we start to think about creating a program that would raise awareness about people that do not fit into the norms and their communities, which would include everyone in society, with the youngest ones being involved as early as possible so that we can become fully aware not just of the discomfort and its reciprocity discomfort, but how it came to exist in the first place.

All things considered could in my opinion help us diminish the discomfort, and potentially eliminate it as well as help us become (more) open towards diversity in the broadest sense simultaneously promoting the YUFE values.