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Chapter 16: Isolation by avoiding interaction (Page 425 - 440)

Our basic knowledge of the social relationships between people includes the fact that unpleasant and threatening situations and encounters are usually avoided if there is a possibility. As we have seen, interaction with physically deviating people fulfills all the requirements to set this behavioral mechanism in motion.

A subtle physical sign of distancing tendencies is e.g. - as mentioned - the shortening of eye contact when interacting with visibly physically handicapped people. The "looking the other way" or "overlooking" as a preventive tactic of the non-disabled to avoid possible communication from the outset is part of the everyday experience of those affected (Heese and Solarova, 1973, 48; Unterprivilegiert, 1973, 90; case studies).

16.1 Isolation in the peer group

Sociometric studies of the social position of the disabled child in the class of non-disabled classmates were carried out by Centers and Centers (1963a), Hahn and Jansen (1967) and Haupt (1974), among others. While a blatant outsider position of the physically disabled child was determined in the first two studies (Centers and Centers, 1963a, 129f; Hahn and Jansen, 1967, 42ff), the study by Haupt (1974) did not reveal any differences between children with dysmelia and non-disabled children the degree of popularity in the class (61f).

A sociometric study by Hildebrandt (1970; quoted in Haupt, 1974, 15) comes to the same conclusion. Schönberger (1966), on the other hand, considers an outsider position of CP children to be proven on the basis of his sociometric data (504). And 24.2% of the stutterers examined by Fritz (1967; quoted in Hill, 1971, 112f) experienced total rejection in the school class compared to 5.4% of the non-disabled children. 40% of the stutterers' contact attempts were unsuccessful; the corresponding figure for non-stutterers was 14.7%.

The contradictions may be due in part to the generally more favorable social assessment of children with dysmelia (objects of investigation by Haupt and Hildebrandt). On the other hand, there are fundamental reservations about the sociometric method as an instrument for recording the behavioral dimension. In fact, it is a matter of creating popularity rankings, i.e. attitudes that cannot easily be equated with actual behavior.

Centers and Centers (1963a) also emphasize this point: "This investigation does not reveal what effect the expressed attitudes of rejection may have on the behavior of the group toward the amputee children" (131). In German-language literature, however, it is not taken so seriously. For example, Haupt (1974) summarizes the result of the Centers study: "Children who have a classmate who is amputated with arm amputee behave more negatively towards the amputee than children without disabled classmates" (12).

More reliable data result from the statements and observations of contact persons. In the study by Haupt (1974), 83.5 of the parents of disabled children reported interaction disorders, 53.8% rated them as "clearly pronounced" (64).

Strasser et al. (1968), on the basis of interviews with parents and after evaluating the observations of a kindergarten teacher, come to the conclusion that the 86 pre-school children with dysmelia examined by them cannot speak of isolation as far as contact with non-disabled playmates is concerned (223f).

Kunert (1973, 23), on the other hand, found contact disorders and isolation in physically disabled children of preschool age as well as in normal school, as did Schmidt (1967, 430). Heiserer (1972, 166) also observed in a holiday camp with boys between the ages of 9 and 13 years a distinct demarcation from their physically handicapped comrades ("a kind of primitive reaction"), which over time gave way to increasing social acceptance. Münzing (1971, 177) found in role play with 8 to 10 year old schoolchildren that non-disabled children were unwilling to respond to the interaction offers of a child of the same age in a wheelchair.

According to our own research, all physically handicapped children experience a certain isolation from their non-handicapped peers, however, they are heavily dependent on social and personal factors and in particular the type and visibility of the handicap. This tendency towards isolation seems to increase with age and reaches a temporary climax with the onset of puberty. Also older siblings, who during childhood often achieved an important compensation for the general social isolation[20], then often withdraw (M. K .; G.H.), partly as a reaction to ongoing emotional disadvantage within the family in favor of the disabled child (G.K.). In one case there is complete isolation on the basis of strong rejection from other children; here the particular impairment of communication skills due to hearing damage has a very impressive effect (G.K.) [21].

Moreover, the parents of disabled children tend to downplay the actual extent of social isolation by referring to the particularly warm relationships within the family ("The child has us" '(H.S.)). Bläsig and Schomburg (1968) found out from parents of cerebrally paralyzed children that only 28.5 did not receive visits from playmates (12), 70.4 rated the behavior of the neighbors as positive (13.69) [22]. Parents of thalidomide-damaged children in Baden-Württemberg were 87% of the opinion that their child was "fully accepted" by other children. Only 1% had observed that adults mostly avoided contact, 80% of adults would behave completely normally (Zur Situation ..., 1967, 32). Such positive results make even the authors skeptical (ibid.) And give us the opportunity to repeat our serious concerns about the quantification of parental statements of this kind[23].

16.2. The level of isolation

According to stigma theory, not only the physically deviant person is avoided, but also their close relatives and friends. "One is invited once with the disabled child and never again" (Unterprivilegiert, 1973, 20).

When asked about the best behavior towards parents of physically handicapped children, the representative survey by Strasser et al. (1968) 34% of the respondents for total denial ("one should pretend not to know") and 23% for pushing the problem off to charities. At least 60% were in favor of personal help or inviting the disabled child, 14% wanted to express compassion and 6% did not let their own children play with physically disabled people (194; multiple answers, 2% no answer, total: 139%).

In our case studies it became clear several times that the contacts with other parents of disabled children and the organized representatives of the parents of dysmelia children were also very inadequate[24].

One complained about insufficient initiative on the part of the parents' association[25], on the other hand also expressed satisfaction with the state of relative isolation, since "nothing to be expected" (G. H.) from contacts. This suggests a resignation to the externally imposed role of the stigmatized, in keeping with the labeling theory. Also noticeable are the efforts made by the parents of the dysmelia children we interviewed to differentiate themselves from particularly severely physically damaged or mentally handicapped children and their families, as well as special institutions for the disabled.

The obvious assumption that the physically handicapped are relatively highly isolated and largely "invisible" to the non-handicapped cannot be easily maintained if one considers the corresponding results from Jansen's representative survey. According to this, 56% of those questioned stated that they "knew" one or more physically handicapped persons (1972, 96). Of these 54%, 42% said that they "often" "see" a physically handicapped person, which unfortunately does not mean too much, as this "seeing" cannot simply be equated with "physically handicapped people in the circle of acquaintances", as Jansen does in his interpretation (108f ). A weighty indicator of the contact density, however, is the fact that 12% of the non-disabled people surveyed stated that they had one or more physically disabled people in their own family (96).

A further indication of the degree of isolation of physically deviating people can be inferred from the results of empirical studies on the marriage chances of this group of people. A corresponding description can be found in Seywald (1976, 22ff). In contrast to Seywald, however, we do not consider a summarizing interpretation (25) to be meaningful, if not to say misleading, in view of the questionability of some of the evidence used and the clearly contradicting research results[26]. On the other hand, it is important to note that Siller (1963) found that disabled people's lower chances of marriage are not a sign of pronounced aversion on the part of non-disabled people, but rather seem to be based on the fear of excessive disability-related burdens in such a partnership:

"Exclusion from a high degree of personal intimacy is accounted for more in terms of inferred dependency of the disabled, inability to care for day-to-day needs, and limits on sharing important recreational activities than in terms of personal feelings of aversion. Fear of social stigmata which might be attached to associating oneself with a handicapped person also receives frequent mention "(15).

16.3 The tendency to avoid interaction

The basis of the social isolation of disabled people is the tendency of non-disabled people to avoid interactions with them as much as possible. This is particularly evident in the laboratory experiments carried out by Farina and co-workers.

Test subjects in a task-centered experimental situation preferred to work alone rather than with an interaction partner labeled as "insane" (Farina and Ring, 1965, 50). In a "shock experiment" [27] Farina Holland and Ring (1966, 42b) found a clear interaction preference in favor of non-stigmatized people.Farina, Allen and Saul (1968) investigated the interaction process when the test subject solved tasks together and an interaction partner defined as deviating (mentally handicapped or homosexual). When interacting with a stigmatized partner, the test subjects spoke significantly less and provided fewer communication impulses than in the situation with a non-stigmatized partner (176f).

Gowman (1957) carried out the following experiment: A blind person, accompanied by a non-disabled person, goes to a department store to buy a shirt. The interaction between seller, blind buyer and accompanying person was recorded through participatory observation. The experiment was carried out 13 times and 7 times as a control with a normally sighted buyer (186ff). As a result, Gowman states: In half of the cases, interaction was only with the blind man's companion. The non-disabled companion relieves the seller of unpleasant interaction with the blind person. In order to rationalize this behavior, it is usually pointed out that the blind person cannot even see the shirt to be bought (192ff; cf. also Gowman, 1956, 70f).

The fact that the interaction takes place via the companion of the disabled person is not an expression of the specific communication disorders in the visually impaired. From an account of a man's difficulty in a wheelchair:

"At offices, authorities, in department stores, etc., the young man had to experience time and again that his wife was spoken to, even when the questions and purchases to be clarified exclusively concern him" (Spontan, No. 5/1974, 13f).

Klee (1974a) gives the following experience report from a wheelchair user:

"I'm on the bus. You can see the heads of the passengers far above you. They talk about me. They talk to my companion. Never to me. What's his name? They ask or: How old is he? What's his got?" a lady wants to know. And lastly: can he talk?

The handicapped person experiences himself as an object, he is usually not addressed himself, but one asks the escort ... They do not exchange a single word with me because they do not take the supposed handicapped person fully and because they are biased. An elderly lady dangles her shopping bag and tells of her own handicap: "Only - you just don't see it," ... The shop assistants (in the department store) treat me as I treat them: Do I behave humbly and obediently like that Disabled people do not pay any attention to me. You speak to my companion, although I would like to wear the men's socks, assume that the companion pays. While the sale is being completed above me, money and goods are exchanged, the parcels and bags are carelessly placed in my lap - like in a shopping cart in a self-service shop "(176f) [28].

One thing deserves to be noted: individual efforts to avoid interactions with the physically handicapped are also socially determined; Under the pressure of the social environment, efforts to promote integration by some non-disabled people are constantly in danger of giving way to general rejection. Examples from our case studies:

"The parents of UW report: Because of the enormous burden of the disabled child, the milkwoman always brought the milk from the car to the front door, and then a few words were exchanged. Some neighbors didn't like that," the milkwoman rushed for so long up against us until she gave in "and kept her distance again."

"One teacher had worked hard to ensure that GK was accepted into the grammar school despite his disability. The teaching staff regarded the whole thing as an experiment and initially waited to see how G. would behave. G. behaved inconspicuously for several months, then Ms. K . for a few weeks in the hospital and G., for the first time in his life without his mother, became “conspicuous.” When the first snow fell, he poured snow into the teaching staff's cars. They were indignant. Confronted, said G .: "Other children have fun playing, that was my fun" and, alluding to the fuel shortage caused by the oil crisis: "The cars shouldn't drive!" The teaching staff must have had a proverbial aha experience, the teacher continued, who was so committed to G. until she finally distanced herself from the boy and advised him to take him out of school for the time being. "

The ambivalence of non-disabled people discussed in the previous chapter between feelings of discomfort when meeting a physically disabled person on the one hand and compassion, obligation to help and feelings of guilt on the other hand is highlighted in a study by Doob and Ecker (1970) as the primary cause of tendencies to avoid interaction[29].

A young girl asked 121 housewives either for an interview (interaction) or to fill out and return a questionnaire on their own. In half of the cases, the girl wore an eye patch to create the impression of a disability. There were no differences in the interview situation: whether with or without an eye patch, about 1/3 of the people addressed were ready for an interview. It was different in the questionnaire situation, where 69.2 corresponded to the wishes of the supposedly visually impaired, but only 40% to that of the non-disabled (303).

As a result of their experiment, Doob and Ecker summarize:

"When compliance does not involve additional face-to-face contact (questionnaire situation; G.C.), a stigmatized person is more likely to get compliance than a nonstigmatized person" (304).

Obligatory social norms and feelings of guilt can then have a behavior-guiding effect, foreboding that a threatening interaction with the physically deviant person will lead to feelings of ambivalence. Different in the interview situation:

"However, when compliance does involve the nondeviant in future interaction with the deviant person, there is no such effect" (304).

The tendency to avoid iterations with physically different people is excessive in the latter case.

Discomfort and ambivalence cause the non-disabled to avoid interactions with the physically disabled. In this context, Jansen (1972) speaks of a tendency "away from me" (119). Scott (1969) also emphasizes that this assistance cannot usually be carried out without feelings of guilt:

"Normative ambiguity is ... one of the several reasons many sighted people impulsively act to avoid contact with blind people. It is to be noted in passing that such impulses are accompanied by considerable guilt" (30).

Scott sees another reason for avoiding interactions with handicapped people in the fact that, because of the handicap, such social relationships are practically never balanced and balanced in the sense of "exchange theory" [30] can be (32ff). People evaluate each other according to the potential attractiveness of social relationships, and this tendency is particularly pronounced in modern performance societies. Disabled people now have little to offer of what is socially highly valued. Their social attractiveness is therefore low, their position characterized by dependency and powerlessness. Under the mentioned aspect, non-disabled people avoid social interactions with disabled people because the relationship is not "worthwhile" [31]. Of course, such an act is morally unjustifiable and will increase the guilt of the person concerned. On the side of the disabled, it makes a decisive contribution to stigmatizing them.

16.4 From Avoidance of Interaction to Discrimination

In their endeavors to rule out such confrontations with physically deviating people, which are associated with negative feelings, as far as possible from the outset, non-disabled people are sometimes not exactly squeamish, as a number of empirical examples show.

"The father of the severely handicapped dysmelia child HH heard from his weekly market colleagues:" Such children do not belong on the street, "probably out of concern that customers might feel repulsed. Another time Mr. H. was assumed to take them Small only to sell more flowers. "

"After G.K. had first taken beating from older children in the neighborhood, the parents of these children complained to the K family:" Something like that (!) Should probably not be left out! "Or:

G.K. had bought a bow and arrow ("something like that with a rubber teat") with his pocket money. All the children in the neighborhood already had such pistols, twins, and other shooting equipment. G. wants to go outside immediately to shoot with it. The parents put him off until Sunday morning, since nobody was in the yard before 11 a.m. On Sunday morning at 8.30 a.m., nobody is to be seen in the yard, G. is finally allowed to go out with his shooting machine. Shortly afterwards I received a phone call: residents of the house were complaining that they couldn't let their children out to play because they were scared. G. is then brought in. An hour later, when there is still no neighboring child to be seen outside, K's ask why the call was made. You will receive an evasive and dismissive answer. Soon afterwards, the neighbors' family will be driving away for a picnic. " [32]

Non-disabled people are particularly sensitive when their well-being threatens to be disturbed by the sight of physically disabled people during their leisure time or on vacation.

There were indignant comments in the press when, in the summer of 1971, the owner of a hotel on the Italian Adriatic refused to give Contergan children and their parents the previously promised accommodation. Reason: Bookings had been canceled because "the sight of these children could not be borne" (Der Stern, No. 38/1971). The hotelier probably feared, with good reason, that his hotel could lose its "first class reputation" due to the social reaction of non-disabled guests.

Precarious situations can easily arise when parents go out to eat with their disabled child on vacation (Unterprivilegiert, 1973, 120). The mother of a dysmelia child reported that Uwe aroused offense in a Spanish hotel when he was "normal" eating with his feet to his mouth, just like at home. German hotel guests protested immediately: "We should either feed him or sit down somewhere else. They would be on vacation and we should spare them 'this sight'." (Die Zeit, No. 31/1977).

Goffman (1967, 150) provides a particularly blatant example.A severely disabled person had left his wheelchair and wanted to crawl on his knees to climb the steps to a garden restaurant. A waiter then denied him access to the restaurant on the grounds that the other guests were here "to have fun, and not to be depressed by the sight of cripples."

There is no doubt: the sight of a physically deviating person unsettles the non-disabled person, it disturbs our well-ordered human image. Then "the television is switched off" (Jansen, 1972, 118) when, following the ZDF show "The Great Price", really those "problem children" are shown for whom the whole event is supposed to have been.

As a doctor, Ms. D. had to leave her thalidomide-damaged daughter at home during her house calls after she was repeatedly asked: "Please don't always bring the child with you. You can't stand the sight" (T.D.).

Jansen (1972) reports on the crass isolation tendencies of his informants, which extended to the more or less open approval of the euthanasia programs practiced in the Third Reich: "We don't want to mention Hitler anymore, but that he has cleaned up the homes that he gave them a gracious injection ... "(118)[33].

We should also remember the scandalous discrimination against mentally handicapped children for whom a home was planned in Aumühle in Lower Bavaria in 1969. The citizens celebrated the successful expulsion of the "idiots" with free beer. - Evangelical pastors from Schleswig-Holstein refused in 1973 to confirm young people with mental disabilities (Klee, 1974a, 10). In 1971 it was reported from Treysa in Hesse that the residents of a home for mentally handicapped children were generally denied access to the local swimming pool (Die Zeit, No. 43/1971) [34].

Seywald's assumption (1976, 50) that such harsh isolation practices would certainly not exist against physically deviating people is definitely wrong. A swimming group of the disabled sports club in X., which also includes the Contergankind S.S. belonged to, the further use of an indoor swimming pool was prohibited, due to the alleged insufficient capacity of the facility. The real reasons are ultimately to be found in the possible uncertainty of non-disabled people due to the unpleasant sight of physically disabled people or in the irrational fear of infection. Indications that the aversion of non-disabled people is increased by the thought of close contact with physically disabled people via the medium of water in the swimming pool can be found in the study by Jansen (1972). 21% of the respondents wanted to spare the healthy the sight of the physically handicapped, 6% believed in the risk of infection and 71% sought refuge in rationalization, the physically handicapped then did not need to be ashamed in the swimming pool (87).

16.5 Refusal to Help

Refusing help is a special form of avoiding interaction with disabled people.

Samerotte and Harris (1976) examined the help behavior of non-disabled people under various conditions. The basic situation was as follows: A presumably physically handicapped person drops a pile of envelopes on the floor in the department store. The reaction of 120 department store visitors was recorded, namely a) a handicapped person with a bandaged hand, b) a handicapped person with an eye patch and c) a handicapped person with a disfigured face.

The person with the slightest disability was most helpful, presumably because of familiarity with the "injured hand" situation for the able-bodied. The inclination to provide assistance decreased with the severity of the disability; the reduction in attractiveness was most pronounced in the case of facial disfigurement. The handicapped person's request had no influence whatsoever. Non-disabled people who felt personally responsible for disabled people showed more help.

It should be noted that this experiment took place in a department store, in other words in a "mass situation" in which the original obligation to help a disabled person is significantly reduced because of the anonymity, as Seywald (1976, 132f) with reference to the work of Latané and Darley (1970) and Lück (1975)[35].

The decisive weakening of helpfulness through the distribution of responsibility among a collective is also illustrated in the following observation from the case study U.W. clear:

"In elementary school U. had a good friend who usually helped her, among other things on the toilet. This friend stayed in elementary school when U. switched to secondary school. Other classmates from the old class who had also liked to help in the past , U. now completely refused any help. Ms. W .: "They were transformed, none of six children wanted to help her on the toilet. Everyone kept their distance. U. has not had a girlfriend since then. "

In the area of ​​assistance for the severely physically handicapped, the tendency to avoid interaction sometimes has very serious consequences. From the case study of the dysmelia child H.H., who was born without legs:

"When taking the bus to school, it was necessary for H. to be lifted over the entry threshold in a wheelchair. The bus driver had made it clear to the H's at once that they shouldn't think that he was going to struggle with the wheelchair too[36]. Because H. couldn't get along with the prostheses at the time and was able to move around better by crawling, Tran decided not to use the wheelchair at all. But because of the steps someone had to help get out. The other children have often forgotten that. - Once the bus hadn't come and H. had sat in the snow for half an hour and was then totally hypothermic. The other children who had been waiting for the bus simply went home again without bothering about H. After this incident, Mr. H. succeeded in convincing the landscape association as the cost bearer that public transport was out of the question, and the costs for taxi transport were taken over. "

Klee (1974a) describes the feeling of helplessness in his "Experiences of a Voluntary Cripple" as follows:

"As a disabled person, you sit helplessly in your self-propelled vehicle. You have to wait for someone to" take pity ", grab the car and get into the bus. My companion reports that she has been standing at a stop for an hour and a half in winter while a bus is following the other - fully occupied - drove on "(175) And:" I stood with my wheelchair in front of stairs and embankments while passers-by stared at me. When I asked for their help, they turned away - an experience that was generally confirmed by those affected will "(179).

Many physically handicapped people try to avoid their extensive dependence on the help of others with high expenditure of energy. They prefer to torment themselves doggedly through the difficult situation just to avoid the humiliating position of the supplicant, like the poorly arm U.W., who defiantly dragged all the luggage home alone after a class trip after classmates and teachers had forgotten the normative obligation to provide assistance.

Here, too, the ambivalence between the obligation to help and the fear of interaction with the disabled person, which could lead to a permanent, stressful bond, is the crucial point (Jansen, 1972, 117). Five to ten year old children seem to be equally happy to help physically disabled and non-disabled people, as Katz, Katz and Cohen (1976) found in an experiment, Clark and Word (1972) point out that the ambivalence that disrupts interaction with the "seriousness" of the The use of help increases, ie the more severe the handicap and the more complex the relief measures, the greater the tendency to refuse or avoid help. That would mean that disabled people with severe functional impairments and correspondingly high dependency on the help of non-disabled people are exposed to the strongest tendencies to avoid interaction and to isolate themselves.

In summary, it can be stated that there is a marked tendency among non-disabled persons to avoid interactions with physically disabled persons, which results in a relatively high degree of social isolation for those concerned. Interaction avoidance tendencies have unusually harsh consequences for disabled people, since interaction is essential for the formation of identity and thus represents an existential necessity. In Krappmann's waiting: "The individual (can) leave individual interactions ..., but cannot withdraw from all interaction. Every individual needs others just to survive, but above all to experience himself" (1969, 25).