History of Disability Discrimination in American Schools

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  • 0:00 Disabilities & Rights
  • 0:55 Early History
  • 1:21 Abject Abuses
  • 2:36 Groups & Laws
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss a brief history of disability in America's schools prior to the disability rights movement. We will also focus on pervasive discrimination and exclusion practices that affected education.

Disabilities & Rights

Dan was born with a genetic disorder that makes his bones very brittle. When he experiences the kind of falls other children have all the time, he often breaks a bone. For his own safety, Dan has to use a wheelchair at school. Due to frequent doctor visits, Dan often falls behind in his schoolwork and performs below grade level. Fortunately, Dan was born after the disability rights movement began, so he has access to resources and rights to accommodate his unique educational needs. If Dan had been born prior to the advent of the disability rights movement, his educational opportunities would have been pretty bleak. Dan has an active imagination, so when he learns about the history of children with disabilities, he imagines living in different periods of time.

Early History

The United States began a formal education program for those with hearing disabilities in 1815. In 1864, President Lincoln signed a bill that authorized the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind to grant college degrees. It was the first university in the world created for people with disabilities and a huge step forward for the disability rights movement.

Abject Abuses

The early and mid-1900s brought many horrors to children and adults with disabilities. As a result of the Eugenic Sterilization Law of 1907, people with disabilities endured forced sterilization in a cruel and misguided effort to rid those conditions from the gene pool. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the compulsory sterilization law. In the twentieth century, some sterilization laws remain on the books, even if rarely enforced.

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