A few months after I came to America, one of my American friends showed me a picture of her sister. “Isn’t she precious?” she said. I was taken aback ; her sister had Down’s syndrome. On another occasion, when I first met my new neighbor, she revealed that she had a mentally retarded son who was sixteen but had the mental capacity of a five-year-old. I admire Americans’ openness about disability….
In Asia, the disabled are treated as less than fully human… Mental retardation or physical disability is a stigma to a family, partly because of the influence of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, life is a series of causes and consequences, and a person’s disability may be punishment for having behaved badly in a former life or for having a cruel ancestor. Thus, family members with mentally retarded children are often ashamed and rarely tell others about them. An elementary school classmate of mine in Korea had a handicapped brother. Whenever I visited her house, her mother put him in a bathroom or somewhere else where visitors couldn’t see him. Thirty years later, public perception of disabilities in Asia has not improved much. Even in Japan, the most industrially advanced and urbanized society in Asia, disabled people face discrimination, humiliation, and inconvenience every day.
Kim, Eun Y. (2001-07-05). Yin and Yang of American Culture: A Paradox (Kindle Locations 810-820). Intercultural Press Inc. Kindle Edition.
This post of course is going to get rather personal with me. Being deaf I have experienced prejudices in my life even in the U.S. but it has probably been very minor compared to those in Asia. America was not exempt from the description above, it is just that we for the most part conquered that phobia years ago whereas Asia has yet to approach it.
Almost anyone who doesn’t know me and approached me as a deaf person automatically assumes several things. The one that gets to me the most is that I am less intelligent than most. Even though the saying “deaf and dumb” is pretty much a thing of the past the thought still flourishes among many. The second thing is that since I am deaf I am not worth the effort to get to know me. Many simply write me off as a possible future friend. I must admit that these feeling are not limited to just those of us who are deaf. They also apply to many who are handicapped in other ways. A person in a wheelchair is for the most part ignored by most. I personally make a diligent effort to make eye contact and greet everyone I come across who is handicapped.
I can’t imagine the obstacles put in front of people with handicaps in Asia. To be put into a virtual closet away from family and friends is shameful to me. Asians need to get over the idea that mental and physical handicaps are God’s punishment for past actions. At least for Christianity Jesus tells us very directly that that is not the case. Stigma is hard to break in any culture. I am at least grateful that we have done a better job in this area than our Asian brothers and sisters. But haven’t we found that to be true in so many areas in this yin/yang study?