When it comes to disability, cultural acceptance is always a right answer. Some fear that too much acceptance might end important medical research, stop doctors from looking for a cure, or convince the disabled to avoid opportunities for improvement. In short, they fear we can either have acceptance or a cure, not both, and that the cure is more important.
Disability is a tremendous range of illnesses, impairments, and oddities. Some of us need cures to survive. Some of us don’t. Some of us need special equipment, hearing aids or adaptative communication devices or prosthetic limbs. Some of us need specific diets or very rigid (or flexible) schedules. Some of us need marijuana and prescription medication. We all need acceptance of our basic humanity and right to exist as we are.
Mild to moderate vision impairment is, by and large, culturally accepted. Eyeglasses are common and old insults about “four eyes” aren’t as popular on the playground as they used to be. As a child one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe movies had her visually impaired character try to scout and secure a millionaire to marry, while hiding the fact she wore glasses. That seems outdated and silly now.
Eyeglasses have become acceptable, or even trendy. According to the fears of the anti acceptance camp, this cultural shift should have stopped or slowed research into vision restoration. After all, if eyeglasses help people see well enough and no one makes them ashamed, why would they want a cure? Yet laser vision surgery as a field is newer than fashionable eyewear frames. Acceptance didn’t prevent a cure or new treatments. Turns out many people want to see clearly even if no one is mistreating them.
I could argue that acceptance of homosexuality was a necessary step in addressing HIV, both prevention and treatment. Acceptance of fertility-challenged women as real women has been crucial to funding and supporting new fertility treatments. Acceptance doesn’t stand in the way of treatments and cures; it’s part of the process.
No matter the kind or type of disability – from mental illness to blindness to autism to cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome – acceptance is the first step. Validating the humanity of the disabled person comes first. That’s never the whole need, but the first one. We may need occupational therapy or emotional support animals or individual education plans or eyeglasses in addition to acceptance. Lack of acceptance won’t help with any of it.