Historical Changes in Perception of Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities




As far back as history is recorded there are diverse perceptions, and various attitudes, towards people with disabilities. In some cultures those with disabilities are shunned, shut away and rejected, in others, they are revered and bestowed with special privileges.

History, from a cultural point of view, reveals that the public’s ignorance and fear are usually factors which contribute to the isolation and limitations of people with disabilities of all kinds. Even today, there are people without understanding who turn away rather than communicate or confront someone with a disability, perceiving them as social outcasts.

For a detailed article on global historical perceptions, refer to Disability Studies Quarterly.

Prior to the 1800’s those with disabilities were cared for in the home by families, after which we came to the era of institutions built for housing, segregating a whole population and hiding them from the public. They were not educated, employed or integrated into communities. They only existed.

Institutions were closed, and with the passage of key pieces of legislation, the prevailing attitudes towards individuals with disabilities has created a strong public shift towards acceptance.



While we like to think the 21st century ushered in a new perspective and improved social conditions for people with disabilities, especially with the passage of the American Disability Act (ADA), there are still areas which require vast improvements, such as education, employment, and inclusion.

There’s been a change in terminology, language, and descriptions throughout cultural history which, while perhaps more politically correct, still single out individuals with disabilities.  People with disabilities wish to have their community know who they are, they don’t expect special favors or kindness, only to be treated like everyone else.

A huge obstacle currently facing people with disabilities is funding. Being paid an acceptable wage leads to less dependence on family or agencies, allowing the individual to develop a better quality of life. For those individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, assistance is crucial. If not able to be employed, daily care falls to others who must manage their needs.




The skills and experience of individuals with disabilities bring a remarkable focus to an assignment or task. However, their skills and abilities may be different from what is accepted as normal, creating a further loss of opportunity. By adapting for differences, and enhancing abilities, we could see a workforce filled with people who want to excel and be accepted for who they are and what they are able to do.

Opengate was founded in 1969 and we’ve seen many positive changes and reforms over the span of our history. Through a group of dedicated parents, we were able to create a real home for our clients and advocate for their rights. Progress is never quick and easy, but our mission to make positive improvement for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities hasn’t wavered.



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