Seminar "Rethinking Disability: Historical Perspectives on Vulnerable Citizens at Times of Crisis"
Dr. Baar, M.K. (Lecturer at Leiden University) made a presentation titled "Rethinking Disability: Historical Perspectives on Vulnerable Citizens at Times of Crisis" at the regular research seminar Boundaries of History of the Centre for Historical Research and the Department of History of the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg.
The regular seminar “Boundaries of History” took place on February 11, 2016, where the presentation was made by Dr. Monica Baar, professor of the Leiden University.
The purpose of her project is an attempt to introduce and adapt the concept of disability to the mainstream history. Thus, nowadays historiography deals with the categories like gender, race, class, but not with the disabled. Moreover, the greater part of scientists who study this group of people are isolated in their local cases and do not consider such things as an identity or emancipation.
Following this thought, Monica Baar told about the inside problems of the disabled community. So there is no homogeneity in it, this community like any other has a hierarchy and confrontations within. For example, she described a situation when a disabled activist in a wheel chair told her that he is not like "these idiots", meaning the people with mental illnesses.
Furthermore she emphasized that the very meaning of the word “disabled” rapidly changed over the past few decades. To prove these words Monika Baar told that back in 1975 the homosexuality was considered as mental illness. Also the number of people with diagnosis of autism has grown up for the past 30 years. Monika Baar connects these changes with the development of diagnostics. Then she raised a question “Who actually decides, what disability is?”
The main part of presentation was focused on 1981 because Monica Baar claims that it was a turning point in this question. In 1981 at the UN assembly, Libya suggested to declare this year “The international year of disabled people” (YIDP). However, the speaker claimed that everything was not that easy and told about the context of this event. When this assembly took place, there was the first big post-war economic crisis and neoliberals joined the political arena. Their doctrine stated with the point that anyone who does not work, cannot be a fully citizen. And the problem with disabled was that they were unemployed not because they lacked intentions, but the possibility. Despite the fact this year was about disabled people, situation for them became worse.
After that, Monica Baar highlighted some major events which helped to understand the situation around the concept of disability in that time. Firstly, she told about the congress dedicated to the IYPD which was held at Dortmund the same year. At this congress, federal president of West Germany had a speech about the state invests in the disabled people care. Activists were so insulted by that speech that one of them punched the president. However, in case that the attacker was a disabled, he was just politely asked to leave the congress. This insulted him even more and he demanded to be arrested as a usual citizen. He said, that it would be the only way for him to feel undiscriminated.
The other case she described happened one year earlier in 1980. A pensioner woman filed a lawsuit against touristic company thus the look of the disabled people at the beach spoiled her holidays so she wanted her money back. Judge satisfied her claim and the response did not take long. A lot of people, not only the disabled, united in a protest group against such treatment of the disabled. Various organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO, Red Cross and Vatican started the campaigns for helping the disabled people.
Then, Monika Baar shifted to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, USSR participated in the solving the problems of global healthcare, it did not take part of IYDP. She could not name the exact reason for it, but suggested that soviet government tried to show there were no problems or oppression towards disabled people. That is why there is no need to change anything.
In conclusion, she said that the year 1981 was indeed “revolutionary” for understanding and rethinking the "disability" due to the fact that the meaning of this concept began to change. Moreover, she described the documents for local governments in Europe, which suggested providing the access to the public transport for each citizen, disabled or not. On top of that, this year touched not only the West but Asia and Africa as well, where at this period the concept of "disability" and "disabled people" appeared. That means that after the 1981 the category of "disabled" could be understand as a multicultural and transnational case.