35th Anniversary Edition
Disability Through the Years Timeline
In the earliest days, people with disabilities were scorned and exiled from society. Disability was considered an act of or punishment from god.
People with developmental disabilities were often placed in monasteries, hospitals, prisons, almshouses, pest houses, workhouses, or leper colonies, receiving few no services. (14th century)
Travelers with leprosy had to ring a bell, alerting others to their presence. (15th century)
Mendicants – people who survived by begging – were common during this time (The Beggars, by Pieter Bruegel, 1568).
Small steel imprisonments called "idiot cages" were common in town centers to entertain townspeople and "keep people with disabilities out of trouble."
A person with disabilities might find employment in a royal court, serving as an object of amusement.
Beginning around the 18th century, disability is seen as biological deficiency requiring a cure in an institutional setting.
During the Renaissance, people turned to the arts and sciences, leading to health care advancements and better understanding of disability.
Psychiatrist Philip Pinel (1745-1826) was the first to say the “mentally deranged” were diseased rather than sinful.
Some services and facilities are still based on the medical model, which views the person as broken and needing to be fixed. Only recently have newer models of disability effectively challenged the power of the medical model.
Superintendents competed to maintain the largest, most self-sufficient institutions. (19th century)
Training schools became asylums, barely providing custodial care for individuals with developmental disabilities. Pupils became "inmates." The goal of educating pupils for life in the community was changed to training inmates to work inside the institution. (19th century)
The League for the Physically Handicapped formed in 1935 and protested job discrimination.
Doctors Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed “a measuring scale of intelligence,” known today as the IQ test. (1910s)
Developmental disabilities and mental illness were increasingly believed to be completely genetic and the cause of social ills. The response was to segregate or sterilize all of these people so that they could not reproduce. (1930s)
Vocational rehabilitation services were introduced as a federal program following World War I to re-train men disabled in the war. Services were also established for the many soldiers who lost hearing, eyesight, and mobility.
Beginning in the 1930s, Nazi Germany targeted people with disabilities and the elderly as a drain on public resources. Nazis sterilized 400,000 Germans and exterminated over 200,000 persons with disabilities.
Out of 35,000 photographs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (U.S. President from 1933-1945) at the Hyde Park Library, only two show him seated in his wheelchair. He went to great lengths to hide and “overcome” his disability.
In 1948, Albert Deutsch wrote Shame of the States, a photographic expose of an institution in New York. After decades of invisibility, people living in institutions were again the objects of attention.
In the late 1960s, many parents began fighting for better services and the closure of institutions.
More modern responses to disability have centered on disability rights and activism, with the goal of removing barriers to equal participation in society.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver wrote about her sister Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability, and the Kennedy administration launched initiatives to support people with developmental disabilities.
One way self-advocates have redefined the "disability problem" is through reclaiming the language used to describe them. If disability is important in describing someone, it should be secondary to the person.
Disability: The Impact Years, 1988-2023
First issue of Impact published on case management. “The purpose of this publication is to synthesize information on a feature topic of wide-ranging interest in the field of developmental disabilities and to disseminate other information of a relevant and timely nature. Comments to the Editor are encouraged.”
In March 1990, more than 1,000 protesters crawled up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to urge congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. It passed July 26.
Americans with Disabilities Act signed by President George H.W. Bush
Impact feature issue on family support.
Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered is formed in Estes Park, Colorado
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act is amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Jerry’s Orphans stages its first annual picket of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.
The average daily population of state IDD institutions declines to 80,269, down from 194,650 in 1967, according to the Residential Information Systems Project at the Institute on Community Integration.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is amended to make employment the primary goal of vocational rehabilitation.
Impact feature issue on self-advocacy
The Remembering with Dignity project begins in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the goal of placing names on the numbered graves in Minnesota’s institutions and getting an apology from the state for years of abuse, neglect, and abandonment
Impact issue on institution closures. Tia Nelis, co-chair of the national organization Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, writes a cover story, “The Realities of Institutions,” about her experiences visiting people with disabilities who live in large settings. “The picture is very clear,” she writes. “Institutional living allows people very little, if any, privacy. I’ve never met anyone who would choose to live in an institution once they have moved out.”
Impact issue on supporting diversity. “Meyer Rehabilitation Institute, in collaboration with the Urban League of Nebraska and Arc of Nebraska, has designed and implemented a series of strategies…[including] establishing community advisory boards that include disability advocates.”
Impact issue on person-centered planning
The Remembering with Dignity project secures the release of names of people buried anonymously in the Faribault Regional Treatment Center and begins to mark gravesites with headstones. The state of Minnesota refuses to apologize.
Workforce Investment Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in WIA-funded services and expands the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to people with disabilities.
Impact issue on school-to-work and students with disabilities.
Olmstead v. L.C., a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, rules that segregating people with disabilities is discrimination if integrated settings are available. Lead plaintiffs are Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson.
Impact issue on partnering to improve healthcare for children with disabilities.
Impact issue on paraeducators supporting at-risk students and students with disabilities.
Impact issue on secondary education and transition.
Impact issue on parenting teens and young adults.
Impact issue on supporting new career paths.
Impact issue on positive supports.
Author Alice Wong and others launch #CripTheVote, a campaign to raise awareness about disability issues and engage voters with disabilities in the political process. Wong later launched the Disability Visibility podcast.
More than 60 percent of people with IDD who receive long-term services and supports live in their family home. 11 percent live in their own home. 4 percent live in large, institutional settings. – RISP, In-Home and Residential Long-Term Supports and Services for Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities: Status and Trends 2019.
Impact issue on self-advocacy, written by people with IDD.
Impact issue on managing through crisis. Researchers Margaret Turk and Scott Landes reveal some of the first research findings showing higher fatality rates from COVID-19 among people with IDD.
Noted artist and former Willowbrook resident William Britt is featured in an Impact issue on careers in the arts. A Maya Angelou poem about Britt is included in the issue.
James Martin, an actor with Down syndrome, wins an Oscar for An Irish Goodbye. President Biden signs executive order expanding care access for people with disabilities.
Impact issue on engaging communities underrepresented in disability research shares research priorities for the disability field. Since 2022, Impact’s digital edition has been available in English and Spanish and features clear-language summaries of overview articles.