Disability History Timeline
Ancient Times: The earliest physicians
regard mental illness as a punishment inflicted for angering the
believed that affected people must undergo an exorcism. If that failed, banishment followed.
1000 B.C.E.: Epileptic seizures are believed
to occur when invisible demons attack a person's body.
400 B.C.E.: Hippocrates says mental illness
should be understood in terms of disturbed physiology. Hippocrates
develops a diet for epileptics, possibly similar to the modern Ketogenic diet, which treats epilepsy.
Ancient Rome: Epilepsy is believed to be
contracted by touching and epileptic, or breathing in the same
room the epileptic was in. Since epilepsy was considered contagious,
epileptics were forced to live alone.
700s C.E.: Asylums first established in
the Middle East.
Middle Ages: Witchcraft and demonic forces
are the believed causes of disabilities, and religion was believed
to be the
solution. Epilepsy, known as "falling sickness," was cured by giving the patient a blessed ring.
1247: Possibly the world's first psychiatric
hospital, St. Mary of Bethlehem, was established in Britain. Patients
were customarily chained to walls, and dunked in water or beaten
if they misbehaved.
1366: A mental hospital was established
1376: In Hamburg, disabled people are housed
in "the idiots' cage," a tower in the town wall.
1407: A mental hospital established in
1460s: First invalid chair made, predecessor to a modern wheelchair
1480: "Maleus Malificorum" was
published, detailing the dangers of witchcraft and demons. It
states that disabled babies are left by fairies and demons as
punishment for parents who had been evil, not worshiped God, or
were seduced by the devil. The baby, likewise, was considered
possessed by the devil.
1500s: Physically and mentally-disabled
people are used for amusement as court jesters. Among intellectuals.
epileptics are thought to have prophet-like abilities, gathering
information while in a seizures.
Renaissance: Paintings show infants and
children with Downs Syndrome as cherubs.
1600s: "Deviants," (the mentally-ill,
handicapped, vagrants, and delinquents) are confined to hospitals,
chained to walls. Epileptics are segregated from the rest of hospital populations, to prevent the spread
of epilepsy to other patients.
1600s-1700s: Public attitudes towards the
mentally-ill improve with advances in European medicine.
1700s: Bethlehem hospital in London welcomed
the public to come each Sunday and observe the patients, chained
and caged, as entertainment. Admissions fees helped pay for hospital
1741: The Foundling Hospital in London
was established because of the large number of disabled children
being abandoned by parents, especially in the winter.
late 1700s: Educated Europeans begin demanding
a medical revolution, aimed at improving the lives of
1796: In Britain, William Tuke establishes
the York Retreat, a humane-care mental hospital. York Asylum,
England, continues cruel, punitive treatment of patients.
1786: Valentin Haug writes "An Essay on the Education of the Blind," in which he introduces the idea of .reading embossed letters
1788: Chiarugi begins humanitarian regimes
in his Florence hospital.
1800: Philippe Pinel becomes head of the
Bicetre, a Paris mental hospital. Pinel instigates a revolution
in caring for disabled people, establishing these changes:
- no more chains or shackles in asylums and hospitals
- patients no longer relegated to dungeons, but boarded in sunny rooms instead
- patients are allowed to exercise
1834: Louis Braille completes the Braille system of embossed letters
1837: A school for mentally handicapped
people is established in Paris.
1846: A school for mentally handicapped
people is established in England.
mid 1800s: Dix's campaign to alert public
to poor conditions in American hospitals leads to widespread
reforms. Generating respect for patients as individuals, and establishing the belief that cures are possible, were two goals of Dix.
1860: Braille introduced in the United States
1886: In England, The Idiots Act is passed
to ensure the care, education, and training of disabled people,
considered to be overwhelmed by the demands of an industrial society.
1883: German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin's
classifications of mental disorders begin a new era of study and
late 1800s: American and European hospitals
are over-crowded due to higher confinement numbers.
1870: In British asylums, "educable"
patients received special training. Other patients were confined
1899: In Britain, The Elementary Education
Act, or "defective and epileptic children act," stated
that schools must be established for mentally and physically handicapped
children, previously deprived of formal education.
Early 1900s: The United States prohibits
immigration of disabled people.
1911: England's National Assistance Act
introduces welfare, because widespread discrimination barred many
disabled people from employment.
1913: The Mental Deficiency Act mandates
that British authorities accommodate the mentally handicapped.
The act establishes four categories: idiot (least competent),
imbecile, feeble-minded, and moral imbecile (most competent).
1913: Intelligence testing is used to determine
which disabled children can, and therefore must, be educated.
Many children with physical handicaps such as epilepsy, cerebral
palsy, and muscular dystrophy were institutionalized because physical
handicaps were considered indicative of mental deficiency.
1914: British law mandates the education
of mentally handicapped children.
1918: Education of physically handicapped
children is mandated in England. Physical therapy was used.
1920s: In Nazi Germany, epileptics are
sterilized and prohibited from marrying. Some effective anti-convulsive
medicines are developed, but epileptics still face discrimination.
1928: First seeing eye dog, a German Shepherd, is trained and used
1930s: Compulsory sterilization occurs
in the USA, Germany, and Britain to prevent the mentally disabled
with epilepsy from having children. In the United States, seventeen states prohibited epileptics from marrying.
1930s: Drugs, electroconvulsive therapy,
and surgery increase in frequency as treatments for those
classified as mentally-ill.
1932: Harry Jennings builds first modern wheelchair
1933: In Germany, compulsory sterilization is mandated for anyone with a hereditary disease.
1933: Franklin D. Roosevelt, using a wheelchair,
begins his presidency
1935: German law mandates an abortion if
either parent has a hereditary disease.
1939: Adolph Hitler encourages physicians
to perform "mercy killings" on any mentally or physically
handicapped adults. A program to perform "mercy killings"
on disabled children soon followed.
1939-1941: 70,000 mentally handicapped
adults and children are put to death in Hitler's gas chambers.
1941: Riots in Bavaria cause Hitler to
cease gas chamber "mercy killings." Lethal injection
becomes the new method,
along with death from forced labor and starvation. A minimum of 20,000 more disabled adults and children die in Hitler's concentration camps from 1941 until the camps' liberations.
1944: The Education Act introduces compulsory
secondary education in Britain. It divides disabled children into
eleven categories, including maladjusted, deaf, and blind; special
schools are developed, based upon childrens' needs.
1948: In Great Britain, the National Health
Service is established, changing institutions to hospitals. Patients
capable of caring for themselves are released, increasing capacity
for people in need of care.
1948: Britain's National Assistance Act
of 1948 mandates that local authorities provide assistance for
anyone with a mental or physical disability, including the blind,
deaf, and dumb.
1950s-1960s: As drugs are changed and improved,
prescription rates rise. Behavior therapy and counseling become
recognized as methods to diagnose and treat patients.
1959: The Disabled Persons Employment Act
states that local authorities must provide employment training,
and assistance in finding employment, for registered disabled
people in Britain.
1960s: As more prescriptions are written,
more patients are released to live independently. Homeless rates
rise as many
patients receive insufficient outpatient care, or face housing and employment discrimination.
1968: Architectural Barriers Act
1968: First Special Olympics
1970: In Britain, the Education (Handicapped
Children) Act gives children deemed uneducable by the 1913 Education
Act the right to education. Four-hundred new school are opened to accommodate approximately 70,000 children.
1970: The Chronically Sick and Disabled
Persons Act mandates British authorities to help disabled people
in the home,
with traveling, getting telephone service, and other needs.
1972: Dr. Philip K. Wood establishes Ms. Wheelchair America, a pageant for women with disabilities
1973: "The Practice of Behavior Therapy"
is published by Joseph Wolpe. According to Wolpe, "un-adaptive
weakened and eliminated; adaptive habits are initiated and strengthened."
1973: The Rehabilitation Act
1975: Education for all Handicapped Children Act makes it law that children with disabilities are educated.
1980: Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
1984: The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
1986: Air Carrier Access Act
1988: Fair Housing Act (amended)
1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act offers equality and opportunity in education, employment, and other areas.
1993: National Voter Registration Act makes voting easier for people with disabilities and the elderly.
1996: The Telecommunications Act
2001: Statue of President Roosevelt in a wheelchair is dedicated in Washington D.C.