Disability History Timeline
Ancient Times: The earliest physicians regard mental illness as a punishment inflicted for angering the gods, and
believed that affected people must undergo an exorcism. If that failed, banishment followed.
1000 B.C.E.: Epileptic seizures are believed to occur when invisible demons attack a person's body.
400 B.C.E.: Hippocrates says mental illness should be understood in terms of disturbed physiology. Hippocrates also
develops a diet for epileptics, possibly similar to the modern Ketogenic diet, which treats epilepsy.
Ancient Rome: Epilepsy is believed to be contracted by touching and epileptic, or breathing in the same room the epileptic was in. Since epilepsy was considered contagious, epileptics were forced to live alone.
700s C.E.: Asylums first established in the Middle East.
Middle Ages: Witchcraft and demonic forces are the believed causes of disabilities, and religion was believed to be the
solution. Epilepsy, known as "falling sickness," was cured by giving the patient a blessed ring.
1247: Possibly the world's first psychiatric hospital, St. Mary of Bethlehem, was established in Britain. Patients were customarily chained to walls, and dunked in water or beaten if they misbehaved.
1366: A mental hospital was established in Granada.
1376: In Hamburg, disabled people are housed in "the idiots' cage," a tower in the town wall.
1407: A mental hospital established in Valencia, Spain.
1460s: First invalid chair made, predecessor to a modern wheelchair
1480: "Maleus Malificorum" was published, detailing the dangers of witchcraft and demons. It states that disabled babies are left by fairies and demons as punishment for parents who had been evil, not worshiped God, or were seduced by the devil. The baby, likewise, was considered possessed by the devil.
1500s: Physically and mentally-disabled people are used for amusement as court jesters. Among intellectuals. epileptics are thought to have prophet-like abilities, gathering information while in a seizures.
Renaissance: Paintings show infants and children with Downs Syndrome as cherubs.
1600s: "Deviants," (the mentally-ill, handicapped, vagrants, and delinquents) are confined to hospitals,
chained to walls. Epileptics are segregated from the rest of hospital populations, to prevent the spread
of epilepsy to other patients.
1600s-1700s: Public attitudes towards the mentally-ill improve with advances in European medicine.
1700s: Bethlehem hospital in London welcomed the public to come each Sunday and observe the patients, chained and caged, as entertainment. Admissions fees helped pay for hospital upkeep.
1741: The Foundling Hospital in London was established because of the large number of disabled children being abandoned by parents, especially in the winter.
late 1700s: Educated Europeans begin demanding a medical revolution, aimed at improving the lives of
1796: In Britain, William Tuke establishes the York Retreat, a humane-care mental hospital. York Asylum, also in
England, continues cruel, punitive treatment of patients.
1786: Valentin Haug writes "An Essay on the Education of the Blind," in which he introduces the idea of .reading embossed letters
1788: Chiarugi begins humanitarian regimes in his Florence hospital.
1800: Philippe Pinel becomes head of the Bicetre, a Paris mental hospital. Pinel instigates a revolution in caring for disabled people, establishing these changes:
- no more chains or shackles in asylums and hospitals
- patients no longer relegated to dungeons, but boarded in sunny rooms instead
- patients are allowed to exercise
1834: Louis Braille completes the Braille system of embossed letters
1837: A school for mentally handicapped people is established in Paris.
1846: A school for mentally handicapped people is established in England.
mid 1800s: Dix's campaign to alert public to poor conditions in American hospitals leads to widespread
reforms. Generating respect for patients as individuals, and establishing the belief that cures are possible, were two goals of Dix.
1860: Braille introduced in the United States
1886: In England, The Idiots Act is passed to ensure the care, education, and training of disabled people, considered to be overwhelmed by the demands of an industrial society.
1883: German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin's classifications of mental disorders begin a new era of study and treatment.
late 1800s: American and European hospitals are over-crowded due to higher confinement numbers.
1870: In British asylums, "educable" patients received special training. Other patients were confined to workhouses.
1899: In Britain, The Elementary Education Act, or "defective and epileptic children act," stated that schools must be established for mentally and physically handicapped children, previously deprived of formal education.
Early 1900s: The United States prohibits immigration of disabled people.
1911: England's National Assistance Act introduces welfare, because widespread discrimination barred many disabled people from employment.
1913: The Mental Deficiency Act mandates that British authorities accommodate the mentally handicapped. The act establishes four categories: idiot (least competent), imbecile, feeble-minded, and moral imbecile (most competent).
1913: Intelligence testing is used to determine which disabled children can, and therefore must, be educated. Many children with physical handicaps such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy were institutionalized because physical handicaps were considered indicative of mental deficiency.
1914: British law mandates the education of mentally handicapped children.
1918: Education of physically handicapped children is mandated in England. Physical therapy was used.
1920s: In Nazi Germany, epileptics are sterilized and prohibited from marrying. Some effective anti-convulsive medicines are developed, but epileptics still face discrimination.
1928: First seeing eye dog, a German Shepherd, is trained and used
1930s: Compulsory sterilization occurs in the USA, Germany, and Britain to prevent the mentally disabled or people
with epilepsy from having children. In the United States, seventeen states prohibited epileptics from marrying.
1930s: Drugs, electroconvulsive therapy, and surgery increase in frequency as treatments for those
classified as mentally-ill.
1932: Harry Jennings builds first modern wheelchair
1933: Franklin D. Roosevelt, using a wheelchair, begins his presidency
1944: The Education Act introduces compulsory secondary education in Britain. It divides disabled children into eleven categories, including maladjusted, deaf, and blind; special schools are developed, based upon childrens' needs.
1948: In Great Britain, the National Health Service is established, changing institutions to hospitals. Patients capable of caring for themselves are released, increasing capacity for people in need of care.
1948: Britain's National Assistance Act of 1948 mandates that local authorities provide assistance for anyone with a mental or physical disability, including the blind, deaf, and dumb.
1950s-1960s: As drugs are changed and improved, prescription rates rise. Behavior therapy and counseling become recognized as methods to diagnose and treat patients.
1959: The Disabled Persons Employment Act states that local authorities must provide employment training, and assistance in finding employment, for registered disabled people in Britain.
1960s: As more prescriptions are written, more patients are released to live independently. Homeless rates rise as many
patients receive insufficient outpatient care, or face housing and employment discrimination.
1968: Architectural Barriers Act
1968: First Special Olympics
1970: In Britain, the Education (Handicapped Children) Act gives children deemed uneducable by the 1913 Education
Act the right to education. Four-hundred new school are opened to accommodate approximately 70,000 children.
1970: The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act mandates British authorities to help disabled people in the home,
with traveling, getting telephone service, and other needs.
1972: Dr. Philip K. Wood establishes Ms. Wheelchair America, a pageant for women with disabilities
1973: "The Practice of Behavior Therapy" is published by Joseph Wolpe. According to Wolpe, "un-adaptive habits are
weakened and eliminated; adaptive habits are initiated and strengthened."
1973: The Rehabilitation Act
1975: Education for all Handicapped Children Act makes it law that children with disabilities are educated.
1980: Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
1984: The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
1986: Air Carrier Access Act
1988: Fair Housing Act (amended)
1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act offers equality and opportunity in education, employment, and other areas.
1993: National Voter Registration Act makes voting easier for people with disabilities and the elderly.
1996: The Telecommunications Act
2001: Statue of President Roosevelt in a wheelchair is dedicated in Washington D.