Steven P. Segal and Leah A. Jacobs
The deinstitutionalization policy sought to prevent unnecessary admission and retention in institutions for six populations: elderly people, children, people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, criminal offenders, and, more recently, the homeless. It also sought to develop community alternatives for housing, treating, and habilitating or rehabilitating these groups. U.S. institutional populations, however, have increased since the policy’s inception by 212%. As implemented, deinstitutionalization initiated a process that involved a societal shift in the type of institutions and institutional alternatives used to house these groups, often referred to as transinstitutionalization. This entry considers how this shift has affected the care and control of such individuals from political, economic, legal, and social perspectives, as well as suggestions for a truer implementation of deinstitutionalization.
The role of disability rights has developed and evolved over the course of the United States’ history. The definition of disability has broadened as well as the pursuit for equal treatment, inclusion, and more accessible environments. Key pieces of legislation such as the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act demonstrate a course of steps toward these more empowering themes of independence for those with disabilities. Disability advocates are strong in their message of “nothing about us, without us.” The disability rights movement helped to propel culture shifts and has promoted inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Despite the intention of disability policy to move the nation to more accessible, inclusive, and less discriminatory environments, more work is still needed to support the rights of those with disabilities.