In mainstream secondary school history lessons about the Holocaust, no teacher ever told me this. The only clue I got about the Nazis attitude towards disabled people was when I was told that in a concentration camp, I would have been sent straight to the gas chambers, because I couldn’t have done any physical work.
Considering everything I had been told about the Nazis, I wasn’t surprised. I do wish the T4 programme had been mentioned at school, though. Because no teacher ever hesitated to tell me that the Holocaust was about killing Jewish people.
Did you know anything about how disabled slaves were treated? I had never even thought about this until I heard a speech about it last year. Yet when my teachers told me about the slave trade, they never hesitated to tell me it was about white people owning black people who were made to work in their houses for free.
Did you know that King George VI had a very serious stammer? I didn’t, until I watched The King’s Speech. Yet no history teacher ever hesitated to tell me that King George VI was the father of the present Queen, Elizabeth II.
Did you know that Prince Philip’s mother was born deaf? I didn’t, until I watched a very good recent documentary about her life, The Queen’s Mother In Law. This programme also revealed that she had severe mental health issues.
After the possible discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III and the revelation that he had scoliosis (curvature of the spine), I was informed by someone who has read Shakespeare’s play Richard III that his disability is mentioned often throughout the script, but I had never been told about it in a history lesson.
This made me realise that mainstream secondary schools teach children hardly anything about the disability links in history. As a disabled person, I believe that this should change.
Just as lessons about the Holocaust were aimed at reducing religious discrimination, just as lessons about slavery were aimed at reducing racial discrimination, I believe that teaching children how disabled people were treated in important periods of history, or that historical figures were disabled, might just reduce disability discrimination, or maybe even disability hate crimes, in the future.
That’s why I have recently launched a campaign called Old Is Gold to get disability links taught in history lessons in schools. I have started up an e-petition on the government website. If it gets enough support, I hope the idea might get debated in parliament.
If this campaign interests you, you can also follow it on Facebook at Teach Disability Links in History Lessons – Old is Gold.
Finally, if you know of an important historical figure who was disabled, please leave a comment below.