History of Disabilities


Early Civilization – Early civilizations were mostly hunters, farmers and shepherds who thought that people with disabilities were useless because they could not contribute money or work to the tribe. Many babies with disabilities were killed so the family didn’t have to waste food on them.

Christianity – Many early Christians believed that disability was brought on by sin, and that disability was shameful and should be hidden from society. Most people with disabilities were isolated from society like people with leprosy.

The Middle Ages – Many people of this time thought that disability was a sign of evil and being possessed by the devil. Some people with disabilities were burned as witches. People with disabilities were often harassed and abused, and were forced to beg for their basic needs.

American Colonies – American law did not allow people with disabilities to come to the U.S. unless they had guaranteed financial support from relatives.

The Mid 1800s – Alms-houses (large institutions) for the poor and people with disabilities were developed. People with disabilities were segregated from the rest of society and spent their lives in institutions with horrible living conditions.

Word War I – WWI brought the first rehabilitation services and pension for veterans with disabilities.

Roosevelt Era – President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935, which gave people with some types of disabilities a monthly income.

The Last 30 Years – Attitudes about disability have changed due to advocacy efforts of people with disabilities and family members. Changes include education for all children with disabilities, de-institutionalization, development of more community-based services, better medical care, various civil rights laws, and the development of new assistive technology.