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Reckoning with the History of State Institutions for People with Disabilities: How Lessons from the Past Should Inform Today’s Policies

September 20, 2023

5:15 pm - 6:30 pm

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WCC; 1010 Classroom

In July 2022, the Massachusetts state legislature established the Special Commission on State Institutions to undertake historical human rights work, including identifying the names of thousands of people buried anonymously in institutional graves. Massachusetts was the birthplace of institutionalization for persons with disabilities in the United States. First envisioned as a means to provide public education to children with disabilities who were barred from schools, over time, a network of institutions emerged that segregated persons with disabilities from their communities and furthered eugenical policies. In recent decades, disability rights activists and their allies have succeeded in advocating for the closure of many institutions and also have succeeded in memorializing these sites. Yet, some sites contain unmarked graves of former residents and their legacy looms large over how services for persons with disabilities are delivered to this day. Led by persons with disabilities, the 17-member Special Commission will grapple with this enduring legacy, helping institution survivors to tell their stories and issuing a report on its findings in June 2025.

This panel will bring together scholars, educators, and advocates, including members of the Special Commission, to take stock of what is know about the history of state institutions in Massachusetts and how that history is relevant for understanding policies and services for persons with disabilities today. It will be held in person on October 25th, from 5:15 to 6:30PM US Eastern time, in Room WCC 1010 of Wasserstein Hall at the Harvard Law School, located at 1585 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Real-time captioning (CART) or American Sign Language are available upon advance request using the registration form. Light refreshments will be provided.

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September 20, 2023, 5:15 pm - 6:30 pm

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