History of DisabilityWhy This Is Important
History matters. Santayana’s famous warning rings true, especially in disability history: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” For those in human service professions, a look into history reveals an almost gothic doom: Aristotle’s proposition that all disabled children be put to death; Martin Luther’s dictum that children with mental retardation have no souls, “and the devil sits in such changelings where there souls should have been”; Henry Goddard’s rush to sterilize the “feebleminded” and usher in the eugenics movement, that pseudo-science of “better breeding” adopted by the Nazis and practiced in fatal extreme on hundreds of thousands of disabled children and adults in the Holocaust; and our own warehousing of thousands of disabled citizens in this country, “abandoned to their fate” for the sin of having a disability. History also tells of victories and acts and courage. Parents, advocates, and activists who said said "No!" to unfair treatment and lack of opportunitie and self-advocates who speak for themselves and others with disabilities. History matters because it can show us where we have been. With a commitment to social change and a shared vision for the future, it can also help us get to where we are going.