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There have been various changes in our society regarding the management and treatment of people with disabilities during the last 40 to 50 years. There have also been numerous breakthroughs in medical treatment. As a result, the majority of these people live in the community rather than in institutions, and their oral health care is provided by community-based private practitioners. Prior to the twentieth century, social attitudes about people with disabilities reflected the belief that they were sick, flawed, and deviant. Throughout history, society has viewed these people as objects of terror and pity. The general consensus was that such people were unable to participate in or contribute to society and hence needed to rely on welfare or charitable groups. Prior to the late 1800s, most people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and/or epilepsy lived at home with their family and were cared for by them. For severely and profoundly impaired people, life expectancy was not as high as it is now. Institutions for people with developmental disabilities began to be created by state and municipal administrative authorities in the late 1800s. The majority of these institutions were constructed on the outskirts of town. This segregated managerial style was aided by societal sentiments. Segregation from society, unfortunately, stigmatizes people even more.
Gainesville, Florida’s Florida Farm Colony for the Feebleminded and Epileptic was founded in 1920. Residents were managed using a “custodial” model. They were not included in community activities. Segregation from society is obviously stigmatizing. Along with shifts in society’s beliefs, the terminology used to describe people with disabilities has evolved. Idiot, imbecile, and moron are all ancient phrases. “Mentally retarded” and “disabled” were substituted for these phrases. It has become increasingly important in recent years to stress the individual rather than the person’s handicap; for example, “individuals with mental retardation” rather than “mentally retarded persons.” People with disabilities prefer to be acknowledged for their strengths rather than their limitations. Some people would rather be called “differently abled” than “disabled.”

The Academy of Dentistry for the Handicapped was renamed the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities a few years ago.

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