The 1980s: A Growing Emphasis on Capacity.
Understanding the Impact of the Environment.

In the 1980s, there were four critical developments in the definitions of developmental disabilities:

  • The full legitimization of the view that the social and physical environment (what we do to people) disables them.
  • The crumbling of limited understandings of what people with severe disabilities can do.
  • The needs of people with developmental disabilities require individually planned and coordinated supports and services.
  • The developmental period is extended back to conception and forward to age 22.

The Power of the Environment

World Health OrganizationIn 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) underscored the role and impact of access to opportunities and support. The WHO acknowledged that people with disabilities experience disadvantage when they encounter barriers and lack of opportunities to take part in the life of the community on an equal level with others. The WHO emphasized the importance of shortcomings in the environment and in many organized activities in society which prevent persons with disabilities from participating on equal terms.

By providing opportunities and supports, and by removing barriers, people become less disadvantaged and more able to participate. Social supports and technological assistance can support an individual to overcome a disability, perform activities, and fulfill valued social roles.

This perspective became more widely understood during the 1980s as the impact of physical, social, and attitudinal barriers gained greater recognition. Increasingly, the absence of accommodating facilities, existence of segregated programs, and lowered expectations were seen as limiting people from living full and meaningful lives