Were the “old days” really as terrible for disabled people as we tend to think? Were people back then just grossly ignorant and callous about disability? Or, is that an assumption we make, or a useful conceit to help people today feel superior?
If you go back far enough in history, I’m sure you can find eras where most people really did think you could “catch" cognitive impairment, that a club foot was a punishment for the sins of great-grandparents, or that blind people were psychic. But we tend to talk about more recent history as if only 2 or 3 generations ago, people's beliefs about disability were universally medieval, and that’s why we had asylums, forced sterilization, and ugly laws.
I think that maybe institutions, laws, and taboos were a lot more terrible than they are today. I’m not sure people were that much worse though. As with slavery, there must have been non-trivial percentages of people in, say, the 1910s who didn’t buy disgusting ideas about disability any more than we do today. If that’s true, it seems unfair to forget about them. On the other hand, one wonders, then, why more people didn’t object when the rest of society was treating disabled people like crap.