35th Anniversary Edition

Disability Through the Years Timeline

moral model

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)

Left: The interior of a monastery, with high ceilings and work stations with red curtains. There are a few nuns in white aprons and habits, including one who stands at the front of the image. Right: A painting of a beggar man with leprosy. He wears a brown robe and a floppy hat. There are spots on his face, and he is holding a bell.
Top: A black and white sketch of an “idiot cage” with many people locked inside. Outside of the cage, two women in fancy dresses observe the people in the cage. Speech bubbles with indistinct words float above their heads. Left: A painting of “mendicants,” or several individuals on crutches begging in a town square. They are wearing hats and white and tan streaked garments, and they look sad. Right: A royal fool, wearing a brown tunic and a three-cornered hat, dances in a royal court. To the fool’s right, onlookers watch and laugh at him.

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.

Left: A Renaissance-era painting of several doctors clustered around a patient. The doctors are men wearing black shirts with white collars, and one of them is poking the patient with a scalpel. The patient is laying on a table with no shirt, and the muscles on one of his arms are exposed. Right: A black-and-white image of several people sitting and standing on the street outside of an asylum building. The most prominent figure is a woman in a white dress standing at the center of the image, being examined by a man standing behind her.

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.

Top left: A full cafeteria in an institution. The cafeteria has white walls and dark exposed beams on the ceiling, and it is full of men in white uniforms sitting around tables. Bottom left: An institution building made of dark brick. It has many tall windows, and three turrets like a castle. Right: Two men examining a boy. The men are wearing white lab coats and suits. The boy stands between the two men, and he is not wearing any clothes.

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)

Top left: A man in a trench coat and a newsboy cap, standing on a street with a protest sign demanding employment. He stares directly at the camera. There is a car behind him. Bottom left: A young boy sitting next to a man wearing a suit and glasses. The man has his arm around the boy. In front of them is a cylindrical device that is part of an IQ test that the boy is taking. Right: A newspaper headline and sub-headline that reads “STERILIZATION STATUTE URGED: Phychiatrists Favor It to Reduce Feeble-Minded, Doctor Reports.”

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.

Top left: Three disabled war veterans, who are smiling at the camera. The one in the middle is standing, and the two on either side are sitting in wheelchairs. All three are missing a limb and are wearing striped uniforms. Bottom left: Five frowning men in striped concentration camp uniforms. The one on the far right has a lighter color uniform than the others. Right: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an older man in a suit, smiling at a little girl. Roosevelt is on the left side of the image, and he is sitting in his wheelchair. He has a hairy black dog in his lap. The little girl is on the right, and she is wearing a short dress and standing next to Roosevelt.

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.

Left: A child laying on a cot with their arms restrained behind their back. Right: A child sitting on a cot in an institution. The room behind them is full of identical cots with no bedding.
social model

More modern responses to disability have centered on disability rights and activism, with the goal of removing barriers to equal participation in society.

Left: A crowd of people in suits inside a room in the White House. President John F. Kennedy is at the center of the image. A photographer is at the front right of the image. Right: A graphic of a jar with thick black lines, at the center of which it reads “Label jars... not people.” The background is yellow.

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.”

The first issue of Impact. It is a newspaper-style page with a photo of two women at the center and an article around it, with the header “Case Management: Evolution of Services.” The title Impact at the top is in a soft pinkish-red.
Left: President George H.W. Bush, a middle-aged man in a suit and glasses, sits at a desk and signs a document, the Americans with Disabilities Act. To his left is another man in a suit who is sitting in a wheelchair. Two other men in suits and one woman in a suit stand in the background. Right: Two activists with disabilities in casual clothing, one with short hair and one with long hair, crawl up a set of steps without mobility aids. The Capitol building looms in the background.

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).

Left: A father, a mother, and two children sit in front of some plants and smile at the camera. The children are on the parents’ laps. They are all wearing winter clothing. Right: A black-and-white graphic featuring the words “Self Advocates Becoming Empowered” over an outline of the United States.
A group of people in wheelchairs at a protest. The man at the front of the photo is wearing a green shirt and has his back to the camera. The woman at the center of the photo has gray hair and a blue dress, and she holds a yellow sign that says “I’m a former Jerry’s Kid, stop the pity party.”

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.

A blue and yellow chart depicting the average daily population in state institutions over time. The peak of the chart indicates that in 1966, there were 194,650 people in institutions on average. The lowest point of the chart indicates that in 2018, there were 17,596 people in institutions on average.
The 1994 issue of Impact, a feature issue on self-advocacy. At the top of the page is a photograph of people in formal clothing sitting around an L-shaped table. At the bottom of the page is an article titled “Self-Advocacy: Realizing a Dream.”

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

A black-and-white image of a man in a manual wheelchair looking down at another person, who is crouched on the ground over a gravesite. There are trees in bloom in the background.
Left: Two people hugging and smiling at the camera. The one on the left is wearing dark clothing, and the one on the right is wearing light clothing. They are holding a plaque. Right: A scan of a 1995 issue of Impact. The headlining story is titled “Home, Sweet Home” and includes a photo of a person with glasses.

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.”

A scan of the 1996 feature issue of Impact on supporting diversity. The top half has several photos of individuals whose stories are in the issue. The bottom half has an article titled “Serving the Whole Person: The Journey to Embracing Diversity.”
Left: A scan of an issue of Impact with an article titled “Centering on People: A Quiet Revolution.” Above the article is a photo of two girls hugging and looking at the camera. Right: A scan of a newspaper article from the Star Tribune, titled “A time for atonement?” On the left side of the page is a photo of a girl on a bed in an institution.

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.

A girl with curly hair, glasses, and a waitress uniform wipes down a table in a diner. Other customers of the diner are visible in the background.
Two women stand behind a chain-link fence, which frames their faces. The woman on the left has short hair, red lipstick, and a black jacket, and she is frowning at the camera. The woman on the right has gray hair, a large necklace, and a pink blazer, and she also stares into the camera.

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.

A black-and-white photo of a baby sitting in a woman’s lap. The baby is wearing a hat and a patterned outfit, and is holding onto a string.
Three women standing on a sidewalk. The first has curly hair and a flowered shirt, the second has glasses and short sleeves, and the third has glasses and a black shirt. All three are smiling at the camera.

Impact issue on paraeducators supporting at-risk students and students with disabilities.

Impact issue on secondary education and transition.

A man wearing a t-shirt sits at a desk and types on a computer. A woman stands behind him and points at the screen.
A woman wearing a nice blouse and a necklace puts her arm around a person wearing a white sweatshirt and glasses. The woman is smiling at the camera, and the person in the sweatshirt is laughing.

Impact issue on parenting teens and young adults.

Impact issue on supporting new career paths.

A scan of a 2012 issue of Impact, featuring an article titled “People with Disabilities in America’s Workforce: Time for Fresh Thinking.” Above the article is a photo of a man holding a binder and pointing toward the camera.
The 2016 issue of Impact on positive supports. The cover features two women, one younger and one older, both smiling at the camera.

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.

Author Alice Wong, a disability activist, smiles at the camera. Wong is wearing red lipstick and a tiger-print sweater. She sits in a wheelchair and has a breathing tube.
The cover of a Residential Information Systems Project report, titled “In-Home and Residential Long-Term Supports and Services for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Status and Trends 2019.” The cover also features multicolored drawings of houses on a white background.

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.

A drawing of two people with vibrant colors. The man on the left has a green shirt and a red circle around his head, and he is smiling. The person on the right has peach lipstick, an asymmetrical haircut, and an orange circle around their head. A yellow stripe runs below both drawings.
Left: The 2021 issue of Impact on crisis management. The cover features two women wearing masks with their arms around each other. The one on the right is holding a picture frame with multiple photos in it. Right: An older man with glasses and a pink shirt shows off a painting of a house. He is standing in a home art studio and has a surprised look on his face.

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.

Left: President Joe Biden, an older man in a blue suit, puts his arms around James Martin, an actor with Down syndrome. Martin is also wearing a blue suit, as are several individuals in the background. Right: A girl wearing a gray and teal striped shirt gestures to a woman in a pink shirt who is looking at her.

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.

The 2022-2023 issue of Impact on Engaging Communities Underrepresented in Disability Research. The cover features a Black family of a mother, a father, and a daughter standing in a kitchen and looking at the camera.