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What were the attitudes to disability in ancient Greece?

A new book tells all, exploring attitudes towards disability across four continents throughout history

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11 December 2017

A new book is exploring the taboo of disability and helping to shine line on the role of people with disabilities through history around the world.

Titled The Routledge History of Disability, the book starts from ancient Greece and travels through to the modern day looking at 20 countries across four continents and covering 28 periods throughout history.

"I think it's important to recognise that people with disabilities have always been present throughout history and that we have always been active, vital members of society and not simply passive recipients of care," said co-editor Nancy Hansen on CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show.

Hansen, who is also the director of the interdisciplinary master's program in disability studies at the University of Manitoba, knows firsthand what it is like to live with a disability, having cerebral palsy and using crutches. For her, co-editing the book was quite personal and important in helping her to better understand her place in history.

She found that while in some cultures people are uncomfortable around disability, others such as the Ottoman Empire were quite progressive.

"They were actively involved in employment [and] education, and people were expected to participate fully in society," she said.

"At the same time, those with difficulties were looked after by various agencies in the state."

Meanwhile, when it comes to the current day, Hansen says that her country of origin Canada, while taking some positive steps forward, does not have a favourable history with disability.

"There was eugenics legislation in British Colombia and Alberta until the 1970s, but contrast that to today, where there are processes for the development of federal accessibility legislations," she said.

"There have been really positive instances and progress is being made."

Hansen hopes the book will help lead to a more positive future for people with disabilities.

"Hopefully this book will give people a better understanding of disability and disabled people from a more positive perspective," she said.

"Seeing that we have lives that are active, vital and fully of quality, texture and depth."

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