The last half of the 20th Century saw dramatic changes in the definitions of and perspectives on disabilities, especially compared to the perspective of "feeblemindedness" and the horrors of the eugenics movement.
These definitions and perspectives have had a profound impact on how services and society see people with disabilities. They have both shaped and responded to issues central to community services:
- who qualifies for services
- who is seen to be able to benefit from services
- the focus of services
- the services funded
Some of the central shifts have included:
- major changes in who is considered "mentally retarded" in terms of age, degree and type of challenge;
- the emergence of "developmental disabilities" as a focal point for federal policy and funding;
- a move from an emphasis on deficiency to strengths;
- a move from seeing patients and clients to seeing persons and citizens;
- the recognition of the role of the social and physical environment (including attitudes, services, and the built environment) in holding people back from realizing their potential and taking their place in the community.