From the January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters
Eight-year-old Dakota Nafzinger, who was born with no eyes, had his cane taken away from him by personnel at Gracemor Elementary School in North Kansas City, Mo., and replaced with a foam pool noodle (a pool flotation device). Dakota was throwing his cane up and down in time to music when the driver took it away. The school thought he was becoming violent, so they took his cane and sent the pool noodle home with him. After a community outcry and support for Dakota, the school apologized and returned his cane.
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The first to be singled out for systematic murder by the Nazis were the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. By the end of World War II an estimated 300,000 people with disabilities had been gassed or starved, their fates hidden by phony death certificates and then largely overlooked in the years that followed. The last to have their suffering publicly acknowledged, they now have their own memorial in the middle of Berlin: a 79-foot-long wall of blue tinted glass stands at Tiergartenstrasse 4, the site where dozens of doctors plotted and carried out the killings of patients under a program known as “Operation T4.” Before the program was halted in 1941, some 70,000 people had been killed in the first gas chambers at six sites across Germany. The Nazis’ mass murder of the disabled paved the way for what would later be carried out on an even larger scale against Jews and others in the death camps.
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In the salt fields of Sinui Island, South Korea, known for its disabled and homeless slaves, Kim Seong-Baek, who is half-blind, was forced to work without pay for 18-hour days, mining the big salt crystals in the mud around him. “It was a living hell,” Kim said in a recent series of interviews with The Associated Press. He tried to escape once, but was found, beaten and sent back to the salt mines. The farmers claim they are doing people with disabilities a favor by forcing them to work.