Skip to content

Are Disabilities Being Properly Taught In Anatomy?

Why Is This Important?

In the world there are particular fields and courses that can have a large impact on the dominant discourse of society. One field is healthcare, and the course is Human Anatomy. For anyone at a university in the United States pursuing a career in healthcare Anatomy is a required course. This course is fairly typical to most undergraduate courses you encounter in college. It is a basic overview of the human body, but there are problems that can occur here. While the course is basic, so can the assumptions of the human body be during teaching. There is the idea of the “Mythical Average Norm.” This is the idea that, “you are not human if you are too far away from average.”  So, what does this norm consist of? The norm is, “not a neutral body but rather a particular white, European, non disabled, youthful, and often masculine figure whose features remain unmarked.” It is important to note how it isn’t neutral. It is purposefully trying to make you imagine this as the “correct” or “right way” for a body to be. This idea comes from a book by Aimi Hamraie.



While the bodies dealt with in Human Anatomy as cadavers are both male and female now, and can be whatever race of the person who donated the body, there is one troubling detail. The word, “unmarked.” An unmarked body would be one that has no boundaries to work with in life. This idea of a non-disabled body is a complicated issue in the course. They do acknowledge that bodies can have disabilities, but in this course they are always presented as the result of an accident or disease. They are not presented as a naturally occurring feature of the body. This can quite certainly cause confusion and possibly stigmas to occur in the minds of a young college student. 

The Reason For How It Is Taught

Clodagh Moyles, a Drexel Health Sciences Major, says, “I think it’s useful to learn about a “typical” body first, because it’s what you’ll see most often and it also helps you better understand abnormalities. Without the initial introduction of “normal” it’d be hard to understand how a particular abnormality affects or does not affect a person.” She also goes on to say, “What I do want to add is what we don’t touch on in anatomy courses is usually talked about in other courses. There are pathophysiology classes that talk more about what’s “atypical”, as well as classes that focus on the ethics and current issues in healthcare. It is dependent on the major and the school on how much exposure you get to otherness, but it is still a part of the education.”

The Middle Ground

I do acknowledge that it is a step in the right direction compared to the past of anatomy (where there were no ethics taught or practiced). There is still opportunity for more. My suggestion to further the field and lessen the chance for problems is to implement more ideas from epistemic activism. This is the idea that you take from powerful knowledge from another field, and then use it somewhere else. I believe it would be helpful to create a more inter-sectional anatomy course, which would mean to have an anatomy course where you come into contact with ethical and moral information (not just the scientific material). Maybe intertwine sections of the course that deal with “deviations from the norm” with an emphasis on ethics.Because yes, some things are the result of injury, but there are so many people for whom it is naturally occurring. It is never the job of another course to clear up the confusion and stigmas, but to take it head on where it occurs. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *