Der Spiegel Reflects on the New Social Acceptance of the Normalcy of Disability

Photo Gallery: The Power of Disability

It used to be that those in public life did their best to hide physical impairments. That is now rapidly changing. German public life is full of people with disabilities these days and society's definition of "normal" is rapidly changing.

erman Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble uses a wheelchair. Malu Dreyer, who will soon take over as governor of Rhineland-Palatinate, is also confined to a wheelchair. So are former chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. Indeed, German politics in the last few weeks have been full of wheelchairs.

For Kohl and Schmidt, as elderly former statesmen who continue to influence the country's political life through their historical roles or their comments, mobility is largely immaterial on the public stage.

Schäuble, on the other hand, occupies a key cabinet position while Dreyer is on the eve of her greatest political challenge yet. Given the stresses placed on today's top politicians, the physical limitations these politicians face is very much relevant to the positions they occupy.

For many years, politicians' physical ailments were handled with a degree of discomfiture. When then-Defense Minister Peter Struck suffered a stroke in 2004, initially he didn't talk about it at all, but simply pretended to be healthy, sometimes to bizarre effect. Struck was determined to avoid any doubts being cast on his ability to do his job.

Not quite a decade later, Malu Dreyer has no such problem. She is upfront about the fact that she has multiple sclerosis. She says simply: "I feel strong and I feel healthy."

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