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While the number of training schools increased, the commitment to training did not. The schools quickly became asylums, providing custodial care for an increasing number of individuals with developmental disabilities. As enrollment increased, the commitment to education was largely abandoned. Pupils became "inmates ." Through the 1870s and 1880s, a few institutions continued a policy of admitting persons of a young age who were considered capable of benefiting the most from instruction. But by 1875, a number of states began building custodial institutions .

Even though some people believed that the early training schools were successful, education as a goal was sacrificed for the greater concern of housing a quickly growing number of persons of all ages with all levels of disability. In order to exist, the institutions had to change their focus from a training environment to a custodial environment. The goal of educating pupils for life in the community was changed to training inmates to work inside the institution. Instead of an education, higher-functioning inmates were taught functional skills and used as laborers to reduce costs.

PA Training School
Pennsylvania Training School

Institution superintendents began asking the states to pay for indigent custodial care, arguing that this would relieve communities of their poorhouses and almshouses. Providing persons with disabilities with safety and shelter, they argued, was the best they could do.

This was the beginning of what David Vail later described as the dehumanizing process. Unlike the early training schools, the new institutions no longer encouraged interaction with the community. They were located in rural areas and away from the view of most people.

Video: Dehumanization: The Total Institution

The Total Institution

An educational short describing a place of work and/or residence where individuals are separated from the broader community, leading to an isolated and formally administered way of life.
(November 14, 2011) (Run time 15:30)