Between the 14th and the 17th centuries, the Renaissance, a period that symbolized rebirth and renewal, saw a significant change in people’s perspective towards the developmentally and intellectually disabled. The ill-treatment and disregard towards such individuals by no means ended completely. The disabled were still subjected to forms of abuse, mockery and mental harassment. However, the world was slowly but surely beginning to understand and empathize with the conditions of the developmentally disabled.
The first settlers in American Colonies would prohibit disabled individuals from entering the country, afraid that they would require financial support and would be unable to care for themselves. Even as American colonies shunned the disabled, they could not avoid having disabled babies being born in the colonies. Children who had already settled the colonies would at times to display some form of developmental disability. Ultimately a law was passed that allowed families to provide care and treatment for the disabled within their houses. While a step forward, the individuals were not allowed to be part or interact with their community. The Renaissance was the first time in history that disabled individuals were considered as capable of thinking and learning. Schools and institutions for the disabled were set up throughout America and Europe, and attempts were made to educate and treat them. Laws were passed that allowed disabled individuals to be educated, but in segregated schools, far from the main cities and towns. Almshouses were created to provide shelter and care for beggars, most of whom suffered from some form of disability and the institutionalization of the developmentally disabled, especially those who suffered mental retardation, was encouraged. Most people suffering from intellectual disabilities were sent to such institutes or “correction houses” either for education, treatment or to live their entire lives. The first hospital with a separate section for intellectual disabilities and mental retardation was founded in Philadelphia in the year 1771.
Even as the world was slowly awakening to the plight of the developmentally disabled; an attitude of ignorance, disregard and disrespect was still widely prevalent among the population. Disabled individuals were still not allowed to be a part of the society and the institutions where they were being treated inevitably turned into a place where people could go to stare at them and mock their oddities. At such asylums, institutions and hospitals; the developmentally disabled were kept in cellars and displayed to the public; a shameful act that showcased a blatant disregard towards the plight of such individuals and violated their freedom. During these years, the world was beginning to show compassion towards the developmentally and intellectually disabled, yet there was still a long way to go before such individuals were treated with respect instead of mockery and revulsion.