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In addition to the belief that individuals with disabilities were "children of God," a strong motivation for segregation was economic survival. Persons with disabilities were likely among the poorest citizens, with few alternatives to begging for survival.


The Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural movement that began in Italy in the 1300s and spread throughout Northern Europe. This period signified a revival of classical learning, art and architecture, and the concept of the dignity of man, as depicted in the great works of Michelangelo and Raphael.

Scientists such as Isaac Newton were concerned with observation and scientific inquiry, trying to understand nature and the world around them. Italian artistic and scientific genius Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) studied anatomy and the functions of the brain.

While religion remained a powerful influence, spiritual matters played a less important role. People were more interested in the arts and sciences, which led to advancements in health care and a better understanding of disabilities.



Between 1563 and 1601, Queen Elizabeth of England prompted Parliament to pass a series of laws to take care of the "poor and disadvantaged." These Elizabethan Poor Laws, as they were called, shifted more responsibility to the government for the care of the poor, which included most persons with disabilities. Basic care was provided for the "unemployable poor", almshouses were established for the aged poor, and workhouses were built for vagrants who refused to work. Conditions in these facilities, however, were grim.