We would have fewer disabled people in the world if modern surgical procedures were not as sterile and adept as they are, because more people would die. We would have fewer disabled people in the world if obstetric care had not advanced over the years, because more women and children would perish in childbirth, as they have historically and do still in parts of the world with lower quality of medical care. We would have fewer disabled people if wounded soldiers were left on the battlefield, instead of being nursed back to health. If we were crueler to one another, if we gave up on each other, we could have world with less disability. And that would be a bad thing.
If we were a weaker species, we might not have such diversity of disability. Human beings have survived chemotherapy, radiation treatment, convulsive shock, amputation, seizures, and more. Our bodies adjust to trauma and illness in ways that allow us to keep going. We are changed but we live, far more often than we used to. Disabilities are then signs of human ingenuity, adaptability, and endurance. They are not symptoms of human frailty and weakness, but rather of our ability to go on, to craft new limbs, to build new languages.
We adapt to our surroundings and our bodies. We make the world suit us and our needs. This has always been the exceptional quality of humans. We can create climate-controlled homes and vaccines that prevent the diseases that killed our ancestors. We can, to some degree, outsmart evolution. As a species we can protect ourselves from the environment, and lessen the environment’s impact on our reproduction and the survival of our children. This comes with more survivors, and more survivors means more disabled people.
Disabled people are often survivors of things which would have killed earlier humans – diseases or injuries which were once death sentences but can now be treated. We are the survivors. Without us, humanity would be colder, harsher, and shorter-lived. People would have experienced more loss, more friends and family dying too young and not making it long enough to be chronically disabled. We are a sign of hope, not because we are inspirational angels, but because we prove humans can survive. Not necessarily whole, not necessarily well, but here.