Institutions were woven into the fabric of Indiana’s founding as a state. The original Constitution provided for “one or more farms to be an asylum for those persons, who by reason of age, infirmity, or other misfortunes, may have a claim upon the aid and beneficence of society.” The 1816 document pledged to offer these Hoosiers employment and “every reasonable comfort,” promises that would not be kept. It was almost two centuries later when the last of Indiana’s state-run institutions for people with disabilities closed its doors. Disability rights advocates, disturbing media exposes, and evolving social attitudes ended a troubled chapter of Indiana’s history.
The Indiana School for the Deaf was the first state school in the U.S. to offer a free education to students with hearing impairments.
The first century of Indiana statehood brought county poor houses, where people with disabilities were among those housed. Legislation established a Hospital for the Insane (later Central State Hospital) in Indianapolis. An Asylum for Feeble Minded Children in Fort Wayne was one of the earliest institutions of its kind in the nation. Two state-supported institutions with educational, rather than custodial, missions also opened their doors by 1847: The Indiana Institute for the Education of the Blind and the Indiana Asylum for Deaf and Dumb. The latter was the first state school in the U.S. to offer a free education to students with hearing impairments. These institutions are still open today, known as the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Indiana School for the Deaf.