V. The Reawakening 1950 to 1980 F. 1970 to Present: Close the Institutions
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The exposures of the horrifying realities of the institutions prompted advocates to sue state governments on the grounds that their confinement and treatment of persons with mental retardation were unconstitutional. Because of these suits and public pressure, professionals and government officials scrambled for solutions. Initially, the public policy response was to "fix the institutions." This gave way to "change them," which in turn was supplanted by the concept of institutions as "a place of last resort." Some institutions should be retained, the thinking went, so there would be somewhere people could go when there was no other place.

Finally many states arrived at the "close them" stage and settled the lawsuits against them by agreeing to detailed, court-monitored plans to shift residents to smaller facilities and their own communities. In 1975, when a new federal law required that all children with disabilities be provided a public education, the populations at institutions began to plummet. Now that they could send their children to school, parents brought them back home.


Despite the horror stories of public institutions and the awareness that individuals with disabilities have a higher quality of life in the community, institutions are still supported by some groups. These groups, such as Voice of the Retarded, consist mostly of older parents, who on the advice of doctors decades ago, made the difficult decision to place their children in an institution. Members of these groups have not been convinced that the community can offer a better, safer environment for their sons and daughters. Most parents, professionals, and persons with disabilities, however, believe that institutions do not, and can not, provide a natural, healthy environment.