The limits of normal | Eurozine

Disability is often imagined as physical, which takes away from their broad nature, as they can be mental, sensory, and intellectual as well. While some are clearly visible to the eye, many remain hidden. But whether acquired or congenital, one thing remains true: disabilities have existed throughout history. A growing pool of archeological evidence, some dating back tens of thousands of years, show that amputees and people living with Down syndrome, to name some examples, have been integrated members of their societies across time. 

Though part of the human condition, self-determination continues to be unattainable for many disabled people. Eugenics as a movement  liked to categorise people as either ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ contributors to society. Essentially, it paved the way for deeming people as disposable, something which has been exploited time and time again to justify colonialism and systemic oppression. 

During the Holocaust, an estimated 250,000 disabled people were murdered, and up until a few decades ago, institutionalisation and forced sterilisations were usual treatment across Europe.

The European Union today guarantees a whole set of rights for disabled people, and has set up initiatives such as the EU Disability Strategy. Awareness campaigns however do not guarantee the enforcement of those rights. Maria Dinold states that while regulations on inclusivity exist in theory, they are yet to be fully practised. 

Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty or social exclusion. In Bulgaria 52.3% of people with disabilities remain in socially dysfunctional situations. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Croatia also record figures up to 40.4%. 

Women with disabilities face additional challenges. Disabled Survivors Unite, a UK-based disability rights NGO, revealed that women with disabilities in the UK are more than twice as likely to experience violence and abuse than others. They have a harder time finding a job, and when they do, they tend to earn less, have fewer chances to study, and struggle more to get the healthcare they need.

Many live in households where work is scarce, especially in countries like Ireland and Belgium. And even those with jobs, like in Romania, still face a high risk of poverty compared to their peers without disabilities.

Medical needs are another pressing concern. About 7% of women and 6% of men with disabilities in the EU report unmet medical needs, with even higher levels in some countries. A mere 2.3% of senior official or managerial positions are held by women with disabilities

Activists, self-advocates, NGOs and communities remain at the forefront of improving this situation, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Today’s guests lead the charge in this uphill battle, and they do not apologise for demanding fair treatment.

Bernadette Feuerstein is an Austrian disability rights activist and public official, known for her significant contributions to disability rights. She has been playing an important part in the Austrian disability movement, including her involvement in creating a barrier-free Austrian documentary on the topic.She is also the chairwoman of Selbstbestimmt Leben Österreich (Self-Determined Living Austria). 

Walter Mathes is an actor, art therapist, and cartoonist. He is a community worker and theatre trainer and has worked with people with special needs, addictions, and in penitentiary facilities.

Maria Dinold works on the integration of people with and without disabilities into cultural life and to promote social inclusion through artistic activity. Is a deputy chairperson of the Ich Bin O.K. Association. She’s the President of both the Austrian branch and the European Federation of Adapted Physical Activity. 

We meet with them at the Alte Schmiede Kunstverein, Vienna. 

Creative team

Réka Kinga Papp, editor-in-chief
Merve Akyel, art director
Szilvia Pintér, producer
Zsófia Gabriella Papp, executive producer
Margarita Lechner, writer-editor
Salma Shaka, writer-editor
Priyanka Hutschenreiter, project assistant


Hermann Riessner,  managing director
Judit Csikós,  project manager
Csilla Nagyné Kardos, office administration


Senad Hergić producer
Leah Hochedlinger  video recording
Marlena Stolze  video recording
Clemens Schmiedbauer video recording
Richard Brusek sound recording

Video Crew Budapest

Nóra Ruszkai, sound engineering
Gergely Áron Pápai, photography
László Halász, photography


Nóra Ruszkai, lead video editor
Kateryna Kuzmenko dialogue editor


Victor Maria Lima, animation
Cornelia Frischauf, theme music

Captions and subtitles

Julia Sobota  closed captions, Polish and French subtitles; language versions management
Farah Ayyash  Arabic subtitles
Mia Belén Soriano  Spanish subtitles
Marta Ferdebar  Croatian subtitles
Lídia Nádori  German subtitles
Katalin Szlukovényi  Hungarian subtitles
Daniela Univazo  German subtitles
Olena Yermakova  Ukrainian subtitles
Aida Yermekbayeva  Russian subtitles
Mars Zaslavsky  Italian subtitles

Hosted by

The Alte Schmiede Kunstverein, Vienna. 


Types of disabilities, Aruma. 

Visible vs. Invisible Disabilities: More Than Meets the Eye, 24 Hour Homecare. 

Prehistoric child’s amputation is oldest surgery of its kind by McKenzie Prillaman, Nature. 

People like us by Bryan Fanning, Eurozine.

Colonialism, eugenics and ‘race’ in Central and Eastern Europe by Marius Turda and Bolaji Balogun, Bristol University Press. 

Infographic – Disability in the EU: facts and figures. European Council 

People with disability at higher risk of poverty or social exclusion, Eurostat. 

Addressing the invisibility of women and girls with disabilities, Human Rights Comment, Council of Europe. 

Disability statistics – poverty and income inequalities, Eurostat. 

The situation of women with disabilities (exploratory opinion requested by the European Parliament) by Gunta Anca, European Economic and Social Committee. 

Facts and figures: Women and girls with disabilities, UN Women. 


This talk show is a Display Europe production: a ground-breaking media platform anchored in public values.

This programme is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and the European Cultural Foundation.

Importantly, the views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and speakers only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor the EACEA can be held responsible for them.

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