Disability History Part II: Witchcraft, Handicap, and Slow Advancements #netde #eduDE

In the first part of this series, I covered ancient times up until the Renaissance. I stopped at 1492, which was a very important year around the world. The central ideas of the Renaissance were the human body is a perfect thing, and those with disabilities were not considered perfect at all. During the Spanish Inquisition, disabled children were drowned and burned. Disabled children didn’t have a place in the perfect “Christian” world.

In Colonial America, disabled children were treated horribly. Many of them would be locked in cellars and spectators would pay to “gawk at the oddities”. Many parents forbid these children to leave the home or go out in public. Witchcraft accusations still ran rampant against girls and women, and many disabled females were whipped, tortured, burned or murdered as a result. Worldwide estimates of females killed during the “witchcraft” times is around 100,000.
Asylums and institutions continued to grow around Europe and conditions were inhumane for the residents. Essentially, they were left to rot. Orphanages also housed many of the disabled children.

In 1601, Queen Elizabeth decided to place the groups of poor into 3 subsets. The disabled poor were at the bottom. Called the “disabled poor”, they were ejected from hospitals and monasteries and forced to beg on the streets. Each would be given a cap to get money, thus the term “handicap” came into existence.

Advancements did slowly come for the deaf in Europe. Giralmo Cardano discovered in the 16th century that deaf people can be reasoned with. This eventually led to the creation of deaf schools in the 1700s, the first of which was a school in Germany created by Samuel Heinicke. This was followed by The Academy For The Deaf And Dumb in Scotland.

The blind were starting to be seen as something human when Valentin Huay opened the Institution For Blind Children in Europe. Huay first discovered blind people could actually read texts if the letters were raised. This eventually led to the discovery of Braille in 1829, but it did not become widely used until it was put into use at the St. Louis School For The Blind in 1860.

During the 1700s and 1800s, many disabled people deemed insane were put on ships and sailed from port to port as part of a tour. People would actually pay to view and laugh at these disabled people. This is where the term “Ship of fools” was created. At the end of the tours, the disabled were left at whatever the end of the destination was and abandoned. Even in London, at “Bedlam”, people would pay to see the insane.

Mental illness was starting to be looked at differently by some people in the world. Phillipe Pinel, who was a physician at La Bicetre Asylum in Paris, France, was one of the first to begin classifying these disorders. In 1793, Pinel was so horrified by the treatment of patients that he literally let them loose from their chains. Some of these patients had been shackled by chains for over 30 years. In 1800, Pinel wrote the “Treatises On Insanity”. Pinel put mental illness into four separate groups: melancholy, dementia, mania without delirium, and mania with delirium.

Beginning in 1801, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard began his work with “The Wild Boy Of Ayeron”, of which I wrote in more detail on 7/12/14: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/was-the-wild-boy-of-ayeron-autistic-how-did-this-help-create-special-education-edude/

In 1805, Benjamin Rush published Medical Inquiries And Observation, which was also one of the first modern attempts to explain certain mental disorders and illnesses. Many of these advances for individuals with disabilities were a step in the right direction, but science needed to catch up with theory.

To be continued…


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Kevin Ohlandt

I am a proud parent of a son with Tourette's Syndrome and several other co-morbidities. I write on this blog to educate other parents so they know a bit more about not only special education, but all the really bad things that are happening with public schools in Delaware and the USA. We are all in this together, and if our children aren't able to advocate for themselves it's up to us parents! We need to stop letting companies run our schools, and demand our children get a proper education. Our Departments of Education in our states have become weak with fear from the bullying US DOE, and we need to take back our schools!

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