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History of Disability

Why 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.

This web site is maintained by the Research and Training Center on Community Living with support from the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, the Human Services Research Institute and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. E-mail weste050@umn.edu.
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