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6.1.2 The influence of culture

Culture strongly influences any concept of disability and especially the interpretation of disability. Definitions refer to religious or ethical explanations (for example, disability is seen as a punishment for inappropriate behaviour) or to medical causes (disability is caused by difficult conditions during birth or genetic abnormalities). Each explanation has implications on how people with disability are treated: Are people with disability “normal” or “poor victims”? Are they full members of society, or should they be kept apart? Is disability a natural part of human life or a burden inflicted by a higher power?

Some examples of how cultural beliefs influence perceptions of persons with disabilities:

"Families have to take care of their own […], because they have some belief that mental disability is the karma for everything they have done in their past life. [They] still believe that only the monk or the traditional healer can treat and help them. […] Cambodia still lacks a system for supporting persons with mental disabilities. Many parents who have children […] complain about poverty more than they do about the way of [taking] care of their children. Some lock the child in the house and go out to run their businesses." (WHO, Intellectual Disabilities Atlas, 2007, p. 66)

"In Tanzania these disabilities, to millions of peasants and workers, are a bad omen to the clan concerned and a curse to the parents. And as the African woman occupies a legal position in the traditional social ladder, the mother is always the inevitable victim of speculation and disregard. As such, intermarriages with clans who have children with mental disabilities are classified, socially, as being taboo." (WHO, Intellectual Disabilities Atlas, 2007, p. 67)

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