The Journey from Feebleminded
Disabled individuals have long been viewed as degenerates in society, not until recently have we seen this common idea change for the better. Prior to the 1960’s Americans with disability were an exclusionary group from almost every aspect of life. The disabled were not adequately accommodated in public schools, the work place, and public facilities. Disabled persons were not considered to be a contributing part of society only as people who required special care and attention, which at times cost too much to provide. However, this slowly began to change with the implantation of legislature to ensure that the disabled person had the same rights as the non-disabled in America.
Fear of the feebleminded
Prior to major acts of legislation in the later parts of the 20th century, individuals with disabilities were grouped with the mentally ill and ostracized. Children were often placed in mental institutions and called feebleminded, rather than schools that helped them overcome their disability so that they can continue to learn. It was a common misconception that the feebleminded posed a threat to society, and financially drained their families (Grossberg, 2011, p.729). Parents were warned of the threats that feebleminded children pose to their caregivers and teachers, and told how they would disrupt societies order by producing more degenerates (Grossberg, 2011, p.730). As appalling as this may seem now, these beliefs were common prior to major acts of legislation aimed at providing the disabled with equal opportunities.
From feebleminded to handicap
Post 1920’s the term feebleminded and other negative vocabulary describing those with disabilities were fading and it became socially and politically correct to refer to them as handicapped. Handicapped focused more on the present disability removing the assumption that the person would forever be mentally ill or physiologically incapable (Grossberg, 2011, p.732).
In 1980, social psychologist Kenneth Keniston used the new language created in the era to critique its assumptions: “What makes the handicapped ‘special’ are the attitudes and reactions of others who are not handicapped; and the greatest harm to the handicapped child or adult stems from this socially engendered impairment of the daily life, self-concept and future – not from the...