Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons

1 May 2014

Current Students/ Film/Media/ Journalism

“A society is best judged by the manner in which it treats its most vulnerable members…”  

Ladd School Lessons

“A college student takes a summer job as an attendant at the Joseph Ladd Center, Rhode Island’s residential institution for individual with developmental disabilities. On several occasions he is called over to the on-site hospital to help hold down a patient while a wound is being stitched up. When he asks why anesthetics aren’t being used, he is assured that “they don’t feel pain like normal people” (The Year is 1973…)

There is a strong case to be made that the abuses at the Ladd Center, and at the many other institutions around the country with similar histories, were the direct result of a pervasive view that people with intellectual disabilities were different, separate, and even less than human. This attitude is evident in the labels applied to these individuals. When Ladd first opened in 1908 as The Rhode Island School for the Feebleminded, its ‘feebleminded” residents were divided into three categories – ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’, and ‘morons’. By the 1950’s these demeaning terms were dropped in favor of what was then considered to be a neutral term, ‘mental retardation’. Today it seems that the word “retardation” has taken on many of the negative connotations implicit in the earlier terms, and we have moved on to using the phrase “developmental/ and or intellectual disability.” Unfortunately, whatever words are used, it is clear that there is still a stigma attached to people who have a disability label. They are viewed by many as different, separate, a burden on their communities, and unlikely to make any real contributions to society. For instance, few would believe that these individuals could collaborate in the making of a significant motion picture.

Please join Michelle LeBrun in a special screening of this work-in-progress!