Memorial Day seems like a good occasion to think about the role of disabled military veterans not only in serving our country in war, but also in shaping the history of disability.
The First World War was one of the first wars to produce massive numbers of severely wounded soldiers who did not die soon afterwards. This coincided with other aspects of modernity, such as progressivism, which legitimized government action to address social problems, the professionalization of medicine and other related fields, which started to standardize care and weed out quackery, and advances in consumer technology, which enabled industry to meet newly identified needs more quickly than at any other time in history.
As this part of the NPR series points out, disabled veterans were still treated with condescension and pity, but at the time that was an improvement over how most disabled people had been perceived. As people started to think better of disabled veterans, it must have helped get people used to the idea that disability itself wasn’t the personal tragedy or societal threat it once seemed to be.