The Disability Programs and Resource Center

Photos of SF State students and scenes from around campus


1817 - 1890


The American School for the Deaf is founded in Hartford, Connecticut. This is the first school for disabled children in the Western Hemisphere.


The Perkins School for the Blind in Boston admits its first two students, the sisters Sophia and Abbey Carter.


Dorothea Dix begins her work on behalf of people with disabilities incarcerated in jails and poorhouses.

The American Annals of the Deaf begins publication at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.


The first residential institution for people with mental retardation is founded by Samuel Gridley Howe at the Perkins Institution in Boston. During the next century, hundreds of thousands of developmentally disabled children and adults will be institutionalized, many for their entire lives.


The New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf is founded in Montpelier, Vermont.


Simon Pollak demonstrates the use of braille at the Missouri School for the Blind.

The Gaffaudet Guide and Deaf Mutes' Companion becomes the first publication in the United States aimed at a disabled readership.


The Veterans Reserve Corps is formed by the U.S. Army. After the war, many of its members join the Freedman's Bureau to work with recently emancipated slaves.


The enabling act giving the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind the authority to confer college degrees is signed by President Abraham Lincoln, making it the first college in the world expressly established for people with disabilities. A year later, the institution's blind students are transferred to the Maryland Institution at Baltimore, leaving the Columbia Institution with a student body made up entirely of deaf students. The institution would eventually be renamed Gallaudet College, and then Gallaudet University.


The first wheelchair patent is registered with the U.S. Patent Office.


Joel W. Smith presents his Modified Braille to the American Association of Instructors of the Blind. The association rejects his system, continuing to endorse instead New York Point, which blind readers complain is more difficult to read and write. What follows is a "War of the Dots" in which blind advocates for the most part prefer Modified Braille, while sighted teachers and administrators, who control funds for transcribing, prefer New York Point.


The International Congress of Educators of the Deaf, at a conference in Milan, Italy, calls for the suppression of sign languages and the firing of all deaf teachers at schools for the deaf. This triumph of oralism is seen by deaf advocates as a direct attack upon their culture.

The National Convention of Deaf Mutes meets in Cincinnati, Ohio, the nucleus of what will become the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). The first major issue taken on by the NAD is oralism and the suppression of American Sign Language.

Helen Adams Keller is born on June 27th in Tuscumbia, Alabama.


Sir Francis Galton in England coins the term eugenics to describe his pseudo-science of "improving the stock" of humanity. The eugenics movement, taken up by Americans, leads to passage in the United States of laws to prevent people with disabilities from moving to this country, marrying, or having children. In many instances, it leads to the institutionalization and forced sterilization of disabled people, including children. Eugenics campaigns against people of color and immigrants lead to passage of "Jim Crow" laws in the South and legislation restricting immigration by southern and eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Jews.


Anne Sullivan meets Helen Keller for the first time in Tuscumbia, Alabama.


Progressive activists push for the creation of state Worker's Compensation programs. By 1913, some 21 states have established some form of Worker's Compensation; the figure rises to 43 by 1919.


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