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One of the most prominent role perceptions of persons with disabilities has been that of the sick person. Disability as an illness or disease resulted in the construction of institutions that in many ways resembled hospitals.

Superintendents of institutions were often physicians. Many facilities were called "state hospitals" (for people with mental illness) and "state schools" (for people with mental retardation); and living areas were referred to as "nursing units" or "wards." Interaction with individuals living in the institutions was termed "therapy" or "programs." A person's case records were referred to as "charts."

Medical Model Chart
Resident dining facilities
Resident dining facilities

In the 1960s, the architecture of the buildings reflected the medical model with separate lounges, showers, and toilets for staff. Residents were grouped together in large, sterile rooms. Floors were made of heavy tile for easy cleaning. Bathrooms contained toilets without stalls for the convenience of cleaning and monitoring residents.

Professionals further separated themselves from their "patients" by wearing clinical white jackets that displayed their name and title. These institutional features demonstrated not only the high status of the professional, but also the low regard for persons with disabilities. As "patients," people with disabilities were diagnosed as "incurable".