Arizona’s History with the disabled

To peek into Arizona’s history we had speaker Pat Volle. He worked in Arizona with differently-abled people for over 40 years.

Institutions like Pennhurst were everywhere, even in Arizona.

Actually, two of them still exist.

Arizona State Hospital

This hospital was opened in 1887 once held over 2,000 individuals and is still open and holds 300 people. These are people who are considered threats to society or those who have intellectual disabilities.  

Arizona Children’s Colony (Coolidge)

This colony was one that operated like Pennhurst and it opened in 1952. They once housed 1,200 children. Though there have been efforts to move many of these children back into society this colony is still in operation and still houses 67 people. These individuals remain because this is their home. This colony is not taking any new individuals. It said to close when it’s last inhabitant dies.

Our speaker said he once took a tour of this location and the room that was most shocking to him was a room that was full of cribs and attached to those cribs were crib toppers. Children would go into those cribs and literally be locked inside of them. Keeping children like wild animals- in cages.

Arizona Training Programs

These locations were spread throughout Phoenix and Tucson. This is where Pat worked for a time.  They opened around 1974 and closed in 1997. There remaining inhabitants were moved to the children’s colony in Coolidge.

In the disability community you often hear about people who worked within these institutions and you hear what they did to the differently-abled population and you often feel rage towards these people. It was difficult to sit in a room with a man who was open and honest about the fact that what he did to others probably caused them emotional harm and to listen to the things that he did.

Although at the end of his lecture I wasn’t mad at him for his actions. I felt empathy for him. He was young. He didn’t know any better. He was following orders from those above him. You could tell he was suffering from his past, and from his past actions. You could tell he felt uncomfortable standing before us, telling us the things he did and the things we saw.

 What I loved about him though is that he was still working for the differently-abled. He was still involved and is trying to right the wrongs from the past. In some ways, people like him turn out to be the best advocates. They know where we have been and can see where we are going. People like him will make sure we don’t go backwards because they saw it, they did it, they are forever changed because of it. 

It was very nice to listen to his prespective and to learn from his past and to see clearly where we need to go in the future. A future where people with disabilities have a say in the life they want to live, where they can live within our communities, and where they can fulfill their hopes and dreams.

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