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Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do

People with disabilities do best when we live in our communities and make our own choices. All people with disabilities should have the support we need to live in the community — but many people with disabilities are still stuck in institutions. 

For decades, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been fighting to get out of institutions and back into our communities. But a lot of resources explaining the history and policy of institutions are not accessible to the people who need them most. That’s why we’ve released two toolkits about institutions. 

The first one, Institutions: the Old, The New, and What We Should Do, focuses on the history of institutions from the 19th century to the present, and what we can do to make community living possible for everyone. This toolkit answers important questions like:

  • What is an institution? What is living in the community?
  • When did institutions get made, and what were they like?
  • What rules and laws help us live in the community?
  • Why is living in the community better than living in institutions?
  • What are new institutions like? How are they different from the old institutions? How are they the same?

When new institutions open, people often say that they will be great places for people with disabilities. But they end up hurting people with disabilities. Our second toolkit, The Cycle of Institutions, explains how institutions get opened, closed, remade, and opened again… and again. This toolkit answers important questions like:

  • What is the cycle of institutions?
  • What are state schools, ICFs, group homes, and intentional communities?
  • How are these places different from institutions in the past? How are they the same?
  • How can you tell that a facility is an institution?

Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do

Institutions: The Old, The New, and What We Should Do is available in two versions:

  • Our Easy Read Edition. The Easy Read version has 7 parts, plus a separate section with additional links and a section with Words to Know. The Easy Read version uses pictures along with large text, and has more white space.
  • A Plain Language Version without accompanying graphics. It includes a full glossary of all the words used in the toolkit.

The Cycle of Institutions

The Cycle of Institutions is available in two versions:

  • Our Easy Read Edition. The Easy Read version has 5 parts, plus a separate section with additional links and a section with Words to Know. The Easy Read version uses pictures along with large text, and has more white space.
  • A Plain Language Version without accompanying graphics. It includes a full glossary of all the words used in the toolkit.
Easy Read Edition

Support for this toolkit was provided by The Community Living Policy Center at Brandeis University. Funding for this center is provided by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (grant number 90RTCP0004). However, the contents of this brief do not necessarily represent the policy of the federal government.

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