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The Start of Activity Centers

Workshops were hard pressed to support this new population.

In response to these pressures, the first activity center started in 1952 in Pennsylvania. Several more opened in the 1950s, including the Occupation Day Center of the NY ARC. By 1964, 94 centers were established by ARCs. After 1964, the growth of activity centers really took off.

Also during the 1950s, many people living in institutions were also working. For instance, the Vineland State School in New Jersey started the first work-study program for people with mental retardation in this country in 1956. People were in school half the day and in jobs in the community for the other half of the day. Some of the first people to leave institutions did so because they had jobs in the community. Ironically, other people left the institution to live in the community but returned to the institution to work.

Old school bus
Photo courtesy
William Bronston M.D.
Happy woman
Photo courtesy
William Bronston M.D.

Institutional Peonage

The other type of work for people in institutions was in the institution itself. By and large, this was unpaid work. In the 1960s, this would become a major issue. In the 1970s, federal courts ruled that unpaid resident labor in institutions was unconstitutional under the Thirteenth Amendment which prohibits involuntary servitude (peonage).

Workers in a field
Workers in a building