Disabled persons are often denied the opportunities of full participation in the activities of the socio-cultural system of which they are a part. This deprivation comes about through physical and social barriers that have evolved from ignorance, indifference and fear. Such attitudes and behaviour often lead to the exclusion of disabled persons from social and cultural life. People tend to avoid contact and personal relationships with those who are disabled. The pervasiveness of the prejudice and discrimination affecting disabled persons and the degree to which they are excluded from normal social intercourse produce psychological and social problems for many of them. Too often, the professional and other service personnel with whom disabled persons come into contact fail to appreciate the potential for participation by disabled persons in normal social experiences and thus do not contribute to the integration of disabled individuals and other social groups.
Because of these barriers, it is often difficult or impossible for disabled persons to have close and intimate relationships with others. Marriage and parenthood are often unattainable for people who are identified as 'disabled' even when there is no functional limitation to preclude them. The needs of mentally handicapped people for personal and social relationships, including sexual partnership, are not adequately recognized.
Many persons with disabilities are not only excluded from the normal social life of their communities but are in fact confined in institutions. While the leper colonies of the past have been partly done away with and large institutions are not as numerous as they once were, far too many people are today institutionalized when there is nothing in their condition to justify it.