Disability in early America

My brother Steve had a variety of cognitive disabilities: Autism, mental retardation, anxiety and others. I began to wonder how someone like Steve would manage.

Read a very interesting book : a Disabled History of the US. As long as we had a farm, Steve would have been able to manage. He could have helped with the animals and would have lived out his days with his parents (which he did anyway.)

But what if you were blind? Or deaf? Of unable to walk well?

Well, in some ways, you might do better than now. No one would expect you to read. And many farm chores can be done by someone who can’t hear. But any of the crafts (printing, weaving, brick making) might or might not be available to you. Blindness would be particularly difficult.

And, of course, living in the bosom of one’s family would make one’s life much easier. Disabled people who had no one had short brutal lives,even those who inherited money. Other people just can’t help but steal it, and the literature has many examples of lawyers, hired to protect, who embezzled every penny.

Interestingly enough, some of the Native American tribes were far in advance of the white man in their treatment of the disabled. A deaf person might be a basket maker, and thus would suffer no stigma for the deafness. Disability might prevent a tribe member from becoming a warrior, but not everyone attained that status anyway. And, because the tribe took care of its own, an orphan would be cared for in the absence of parents.

Another advantage in the tribal setting: the regular use of sign language. The deaf would learn and use sign language and so would be able to communicate.

The Shakers accepted All Children of God and I expect for some, the Shaker Family provided a welcome refuge.


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