The treatment of people with disabilities over the past 100 years was often cruel and shocking. Prior to the 1930's, disabled people were viewed as unhealthy and defective, and thus were often abandoned by their own families due to a lack of understanding about their condition. In 1935, Dr Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize winner who was on the staff of the Rockefeller Institute published the book 'Man the Unknown', suggesting the removal of the mentally ill by small euthanasia institutions equipped with the suitable gases. In 1939, amid World War Two, Hitler ordered a wide spread 'mercy killing' of the sick and disabled. The Nazi euthanasia program was code-named Aktion T4 and was instituted to eliminate 'life unworthy of life'. By 1940, Hitler ordered 908 patients to be transferred from Schoenbrunn, an institution for retarded and chronically ill patients, to euthanasia instillation at Eglfing-Haar to be gassed. By 1941, Aktion T4 was suspended after accounting for over a hundred thousand deaths. However the program resumed without the use of gassing, instead murdering hundreds more disabled people by starvation and using others for medical experiments and soldier training practice.
In 1956, 559 000 patients were recorded in institutions across America. Patients were often admitted by families against their own will as they were seen as a burden; the patients could not contest the confinements. Many suffered abuse and neglect, substantial health and safety conditions, deprivation of rights, forms of electroshock therapy, painful restraints, negligent seclusion and experimental treatments and procedures.
In the 1940's and 1950's, one of the first rights-based organisations was set up due to a wide range of injuries and disabilities which were a result of World War Two. The Federal Government provided return soldiers with financial compensation and vocational rehabilitation. This action sparked the establishment of a number of both government funded and charitable programs that focused on rehabilitation rather than institutionalisation. Research into disabilities provided people with information about the correct types of treatments for different patients. In 1975 the UN Declaraction on the Rights of Disabled People was passed and by 1996 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Discrimination Act, the Disability Services Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Nation Disability Advisory Council were established.