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19th Century

Early in the 19th century the United States government, alongside various charitable organizations, began creating asylums that claimed to be equipped to properly care for and educate individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities (Dorn, Fuchs, u0026amp; Fuchs, 1996). These institutions were originally viewed as “training schools” where people who were viewed as mentally deficient could go from being “deviant” to “undeviant” (https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels/four/4b/8.html).

Inhumane conditions, severe overcrowding, and understaffing led to widespread calls for reform in the mid 19th century.

Mid-19th Century

The first compulsory education laws are passed in the US.

Conditions in these facilities continued to deteriorate, as they were viewed as a cost effective alternative to community based care, with each resident only costing the state $150-200 annually.


Chicago opened the first special education classes for children with physical disabilities, which was the first instance of students with physical impairments being educated in public schools (Obi, 2018).

The 1900’s brought with them a period of xenophobic hysteria that targeted racial minorities and people with physical disabilities, both groups seen as financially unable to support themselves.u003cbru003eu003cbru003e• The eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the mass sterilization of “inmates” within institutions.u003cbru003eu003cbru003e• Families of children with disabilities were viewed as having inferior blood lines, which spurred them to institutionalize their children or to keep them out of sight.


Despite school being compulsory, in the 1916 case of Beattie v. Board of Education it was determined that children with physical disabilities whose appearance had a “depressing and nauseating effect” on fellow students and teachers, could legally be excluded from public school (LaNear u0026amp; Frattura, 2007).

With the economic downfall of the Great Depression increasing numbers of families were unable to take care of their disabled children, which necessitated further expansion of these institutions.


Legislation requiring compulsory public school attendance was first passed in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, though it wasn’t until 1930 that all states had some form of compulsory education legislation.

During WWII institutions faced further issues with overcrowding and understaffing as their staff were drafted and left for war.


A parents’ movement in the late 1940’s paved the way for significant changes in the quality of life and availability community services for people with disabilities.

The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education determined that schools could no longer be segregated by race. Although this case was specific to racial minorities, wording of the decision could also be applied to students with disabilities who were being denied access to equal educational opportunities (2007).


During the 1960’s and 70’s the parents’ movement worked towards bettering the conditions within institutions, expanding community services, opportunities for education and employment, and demanded legislation protecting the rights of their children. The movement resulted in better funding and services provided within institutions, although many were still overcrowded. Parents who did not want to place their children in large institutions started their own services in homes, churches, schools, and empty buildings.

By the late 1960’s expanded community services and widespread evolution of perspectives on people with disabilities led to questioning whether or not such institutions were really necessary.

Late 1960’s

Both 1972 cases The Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennsylvania, and Mills v. District of Columbia Board of Education would later reference Brown in their decisions to provide a free public education to students with physical and cognitive disabilities.

In 1975 congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which guaranteed a free and appropriate public education )FAPE) to all children in the least restrictive environment (LRE), non-biased assessment methods, and due process rights for families.


In 1990 the EAHCA was renamed IDEA and expanded to include Autism and traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the list of conditions that qualify for services. IDEA also expanded on the EAHCA by requiring transition plans for students 16-years-old and older, and included rehabilitation counseling and social services under related services (2007). It is under IDEA regulations and mandates that we provide students with OI services in public schools today.

In 2004 Congress reauthorized IDEA and renamed it the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA).


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