Sunday, September 30, 2007


I love discount bins. I love rummaging. Thus yesterday I was in heaven as the grocery store had two bins, side by each. One filled with remaindered books, the other with cheap DVD's. I'd finished with the DVD's and had a couple nestled between my back and the back of the wheelchair. Then I was on to the books. Almost immediately I found a book that purported to have 505 facts about germs. It was on sale for only $3.99. That's less than a cent a fact! Joe found me sitting happily waiting for him to return from the bathroom with 3 DVD's and 1 book. I showed him my prizes. When he got to the book he said, "Germs?"

Sometimes Joe just doesn't get it.

On the drive home I sat quietly flipping through the book discovering things you need to know like there is 10 million, million, million different bacteria in human poop. There's things in there about pus that are a revelation. I'm reading these things out loud to Joe who is oddly quiet. Then I come upon a fact. I've turned that fact into a quiz. Here, try it out ...

The earliest depiction of a person with a disability at work was in ...

A) 108 AD

B) 1580 BC

C) 1248 AD

D) 1824 AD

Do Do Do

Do Do Do Do

Do Do Do

Do Do

Do Do Do Do

(The theme song from Jeopardy if you don't recognize my singing.)

If you guessed 1580 BC, you'd be right. There is a painting of an Egyptian priest ... you read right ... priest ... with polio. I looked him up on the computer by Googling three words, egyptian priest polio, I click on the search button and suddenly I'm faced with a huge number of hits. All about this guy named Rom who is depicted with 'withered leg and staff'. One of the hits goes further and tells of this Eqyptian Pharaoh with a disability. When the mummy of Siptah, a Pharaoh who died around 1193 BC, was discovered, scientists found that he had a seriously twisted leg and foot and they attributed the disability also to polio but with less certainty than with Rom. What was certain about the whole thing was that these two guys, without question, had disabilities, and also without question held powerful positions in Egyptian society.

I have one question.

What happened?

How could we, as human beings, at one time accept disability to the extent that it didn't prohibit people from being in powerful jobs, and now in the age of 'tolerance' have people with disabilities unemployed at a remarkable level? Why is it that people with disabilities have trouble even getting an interview? I feel incredibly lucky to have become disabled after I had spent a career building a reputation and a place for myself. There have been few barriers for me, but only because I was already employed, already 'in'.

Those early Egyptians had it going on. All I've ever really read about history before was that disabled people were discarded, disposed, disposessed. And now I find two guys who must have been pretty cool. I feel like sneaking into schools and finding kids with disabilities and saying, "Hey you heard the one about the Egyptian Pharaoh with withered limb?"

Well, I'd say that little fact was worth a tad more than a cent.


Now did you know that if you lived long enough with smallpox the whites of your eyes will turn completely black ...


ballastexistenz said...

This is completely off-topic, but I emailed you on something kind of time-sensitive.

elmindreda said...

Often it seems to have been social status or caste conferred at birth or before the onset of disability that somehow "cancelled out" the stigma of disability. Not sure if that applies to these to instances, however.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

elimindreda: I suspect that may be the case. I know that in developing countries, for example, often disabled children are the last ones to be offered access to an education--except that, I have heard of cases where the first-born son is still sent to school (and still expected to carry out the responsibilities put upon first-born sons in that culture, including taking care of the family later in life after the parents stop working etc) even when he is deaf or otherwise disabled. So sometimes someone may be offered opportunities "despite" a disability if they fit into other social roles that trump the disability, at least within that particular cultural context or within that individual family. I suspect that is the case when we see people in royal families with disabilities throughout history who still carry out their royal duties: I think it may, at least in some cases, be more a reflection of how class status grants one a whole range of privileges to which people in "lower" classes just don't receive. That includes things like still being allowed to live after becoming disabled (if the value of allowing disabled people to live is typically questioned in that culture) and so forth. Furthermore, I think you also have the issue that in some cultures, "royalty" is believed to be God-given. So anything dealing with royalty just automatically requires an entirely separate set of rules and values than is expected for the rest of society--for example, rules relating to what counts as "incest" may be defined differently when it comes to royal families versus the plebian classes.

I'm not sure that the stigma of disability is necessarily "cancelled out" in these cases -- I think what may actually happen is that other social rules, beliefs, and customs matter more than whatever social rules, beliefs, and customs normally would have otherwise ordinarily been applied to disabled people. So the stigma may still be there, it's just that other rules may force people to swallow whatever discomfort they feel toward disabilities in the same way they may swallow discomfort toward a person of the royal class who, let's say, breaks sexual taboos or taboos associated with alcohol or whatever.

I don't know enough of ancient history to be able to speculate whether all the above necessarily has any validity in that particular context. I'm just extrapolating from what I know (combined with what I have observed or experienced) of how disability interacts with other social roles in various cultures in modern society.

--Andrea (Blogging disability in developing countries) (The ADA Restoration Act and other topics)

Belinda said...

Totally tangental but I loved reading about your happy rummaging and delicious discoveries.

Now I'm wondering whether,if you had smallpox as long as needed for your eyes to turn black, would they be called the...oh never mind! :)

JM said...

Hey, what about FDR? Though it probably didn't hurt that he was a Roosevelt... and contracted polio later on in life. That does seem to represent a pattern.

stevethehydra said...

I was going to mention FDR, and Lord Nelson, and various European royalty who had hereditary impairments...

Those at the very top of society, whether pharoahs or CEOs, can always "get away with" having impairments without experiencing the social/political side of disability. I wouldn't want to see them as role models.

Karin Melberg Schwier said...

That thing about picking your battles and not really noticing when there's an "issue" really hit home. My husband Rick is 57m I'm 48, my stepson Jim is 33 and what's that old joke about the old bull who advises the young bull about walking down the hill? I so get that. Jim knows better than me that each day brings all sorts of injustice because he has Down syndrome and can't hear very well and has difficult speech. But each day has people who say hello, who offer support in a genuine way, who aren't out "to get us." If you spend all your time shrieking about the injustice, your own shrill indignation might just drown out the authentic voices out there crossing your path. Sometimes when I'm ready to pounce at someone who says, "Sweeeetiiieeee" to Jim as if he's 3 years old, I look at him first. More often than not, he twirls his finger at the side of his head and shrugs. Save it, he's saying, for the important stuff.

Anonymous said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Egypt but i want to say thing to u Ancient Egypt not that only ... you can see in Ancient Egypt Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddess and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,