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After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Western Europe simply fell apart. The tight control of the Roman government was destroyed by the invading barbarians, turning a once unified continent into a collection of hundreds of small communities.

The value placed on education, science, and art during the Roman Empire was gone. Life was hard for almost all Europeans. For people with disabilities, the period was marked by indifference, neglect, and fear. As in Roman times, people with physical disabilities, mental illness or intellectual deficiency were the "fools" and court jesters employed to entertain nobility.

The Middle Ages was a time dominated by the idea of God. The notion that people with disabilities were "Children of a Caring God" (Les enfants du Bon Dieu) was prevalent. The "child of God" perception is reflected in the writings of the Koran , Confucius , and Zoroaster . People with disabilities were considered "different"; none were considered normal.


During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church provided refuge to those in need, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the blind and the aged. In 787 A. D., Datheus, archbishop of Milan, founded the first asylum for abandoned infants. "As soon as the child is exposed at the door of the church," he wrote, "it will be received in the hospital and confined to the care of those who will be paid to look after them." Conditions at such institutions were custodial at best, and most children did not survive.