History of Disability in America

This is a difficult subject to cover.

Our history here is an unpleasant one.

In the beginning we were not kind to those with disabilities.

We placed them into institutions.

We forgot about them.

We classified them as other, and we allowed them to be treated as inhuman. We did this, and maybe when it was done it began with the best intentions. Let’s put people with disabilities in one location where they can have access to 24/7 care, resources, and doctors.

But what ended up happening was nothing short of a nightmare.

This nightmare went on for years.

In 1968 NBC did a series on Pennhurst called “Suffer the Little Children” exposing the atrocities that we going on behind closed doors.

You can watch the full series here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIepqvHii-M

Just a warning… it isn’t easy to watch.

For those who choose not to watch it, these were some of the experiences documented in Pennhurst.

In 1960 over 2,791 people lived at Pennhurst- 900 over the maximum capacity.

For those 2,791 people only 9 medical doctors were on staff and only 11 teachers.

All kinds of abuse: emotional, psychological, and physical were reported by patients who lived at Pennhurst. Children and teens were left to their own devices. They weren’t given baths or showers; they were often running around in underwear or naked. They were covered in dirt and feces. They weren’t given access to therapies or to an education.

One room housed over 80 cribs. 80 with only 2 attendees to care for them. Children from 1 to 6 years old were left in these cribs for days, months, years. These children might have had a chance to walk if they were able to get the proper care, therapy, and support. But instead they lingered, and deteriorated.

Many of those who checked in to Pennhurst did not come out.

Finally in 1987 Pennhurst was closed for good and those who lived secluded from the public were placed back into the community. Many other institutions around the US also closed their doors. The idea of creating inclusive communities was born and the care for people with disabilities underwent a dynamic change.

So how does Arizona fit into this history? Our next blog will talk about this.

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