Skip to main content

Zoom Text:


Despite the horror stories of public institutions and the awareness that individuals with disabilities have a higher quality of life in the community, institutions are still supported by some groups. These groups, such as Voice of the Retarded, consist mostly of older parents, who on the advice of doctors decades ago, made the difficult decision to place their children in an institution. Members of these groups have not been convinced that the community can offer a better, safer environment for their sons and daughters. Most parents, professionals, and persons with disabilities, however, believe that institutions do not, and can not, provide a natural, healthy environment.

By the early 1990s, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Washington D.C. and Maine had closed their public institutions, and many states had reduced the number and size of their institutions. A new approach was emerging, that of supporting individuals. People with disabilities who received appropriate programs and services could live productive lives in the community.

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad has warned us, however, that "When we slay our dragons, we must make sure [they] are really dead." In the past, people with disabilities were segregated as a means to care for and control them. In the right political climate, we could easily return to a period of isolation and institutionalization. The possibility of repeating our history remains until we, as a society, recognize and accept people with disabilities as individuals who possess the same rights and opportunities as people without disabilities. Nor should it be forgotten that the history of institutions represents only a small part of the story of persons with developmental disabilities. Public funds and professional efforts were focused on a mere four percent of persons with mental retardation. The story of the other ninety six percent has yet to be described completely.