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 Disability and Children

This photograph depicts a girl from Norway in a wheelchair. The accompanying caption declares, “A crippled child in a wheelchair at a special hospital for the disabled in Oslo. Handicapped children need special help. They have been neglected for too long.”

There is a vulnerability to the girl in the photo, as she stares forlornly into the camera, her shoulders dwarfed and encased by metal. The wires and wheels from her chair engulf her, while the imposing brace in the front, with its rods and straps, looms in the foreground, positioned as if to indicate future entrapment. The girl holds the brace in a clenched fist, and the device’s uncomfortable and awkward positioning suggests a degree of staging in the composition.

This photo echoes condescension, bolstered by a paternalistic caption. The disabled “have been neglected too long” – the photographer’s vision of disability is populated by children, manifested by the Norwegian girl, neglected and abandoned, and, ultimately, presented as helpless. The words that follow, “handicapped children need special help” is an affirmation of a long-standing depiction of the disabled in need of perpetual aid and charity. One cannot help but see echoes of a colonialist narrative here - one of forlorn disabled children depicted in their “natural habitat,” exhibited as the exotic echoes of faraway cultures.