History Perspective of Ableism in America

Prior to the 1800’s it was believed that people with disabilities were evil and possessed by the devil or were being punished for a prior sin.  As a result of these beliefs many people with disabilities were cast aside and left to die.  There were also incidences where people were tortured and killed.

During the 1800’s there was a shift in thought that was the result of advances in the field of science resulted in a shift from a religious perspective to a scientific perspective.  As a result, people with disabilities were hidden away in family homes, mental institutions or schools for the blind or deaf.  Beginning with the Eugenics movement in the 1880’s many people with disabilities were forcibly sterilized.  For those that were not hidden away they were put on display in freak shows and worked as performers in traveling circuses.

With the return home of WWI veterans there was a push for rehabilitation and vocational programs.  The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s also served to bring attention to the rights of people with disabilities.  There was a push for deinstitutionalization and inclusion of children with disabilities in the classroom.  As a result of the civil rights movement there have been many acts signed into law that have opened up society to all individuals.  One of the acts that had the largest impact on education was the Education of All Handicapped Children Act pf 1975 (later amended and renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  This act required that all children be educated in the least restrictive educational environment.

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