How We Treated PWDs: Then And Now

Posted on Jan 10 2018 - 12:27pm

Man taking good care of his PWD clientPersons with disability (PWDs) are a major part of society. While they enjoy almost all of the basic rights with non-PWDs today, things weren’t always like this.

Before legislative changes and the standardization of handicap ramps here in Denver and elsewhere, PWDs are huge targets of misinformation and discrimination.

Here is a quick rundown of societal policies involving them then and now.

Before the Modern Age

Treatment of PWDs in the past several hundred years is cruel by modern standards. This stems largely from misinformation (scientific knowledge isn’t as advanced, after all). Before the 1930s, people see PWDs as unhealthy and defective.

Families often leave their disabled loved ones’ behind because they don’t want the trouble of caring for them. There are even motions to euthanize several. In 1935, Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel suggested euthanizing mentally ill patients.

This suggestion is in his book, Man the Unknown. During the past 40-60 years, the treatment of PWDs is largely the same. As recently as 1956, mass forced admittance to handicapped institutions is common. One of the reasons is families didn’t want to trouble themselves with caring for their disabled relatives.

A Massive Social Change

By the 1960s and 1970s, there is a noticeable change in the societal attitude towards PWDs. One can attribute this to major legislation. Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon are at the forefront of these legislative changes.

It starts with the reaffirmation of several disabilities as no longer “hopeless” conditions. In 1990, the enactment of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) furthered legislative efforts. It entitles PWDs to protection from almost all types of discrimination.

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Companies can no longer refuse employment; commercial establishments can no longer deny an equal level of service, etc. Overall, it allows PWDs to experience the full extent of modern societal benefits despite their handicap. It’s a welcome change that’s here to stay.

Closing Thoughts

PWDs aren’t to blame for their physical predicaments. They’re still human and entitled to the same rights as able-bodied people. How societal norms involving them changed over the last few hundred years is a positive sign of things to come.