The blind, the deaf and the halt : physical disability, the Poor Law and charity c. 1830-1890, with particular reference to the County
This thesis examines the situation of the physically disabled poor over the period c. 1830-1890. It concentrates initially on the treatment of these individuals under the Poor Law and then proceeds to examine voluntary provision, focusing in particular on the special schools that were established at this time. Although a national (English) perspective is adopted for an analysis of the Poor Law, the impact of special education is examined in the form of a Yorkshire regional case study. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act created a distinct administrative category encompassing the blind and deaf. This differentiation between groups of those hitherto classed as the `impotent' poor was to have important consequences for all sectors of the disabled population. Whereas increasing numbers of blind and deaf children were gradually removed into the care of the voluntary institutions, other `non-able-bodied' persons found themselves under the auspices of a deliberately harsh state system. Schools operating within the voluntary sector soon began to extend and diversify the benefits they could offer. They fostered a sense of community and perhaps even a distinctive identity amongst their pupils. In the longer term they helped to alter public attitudes towards blind and deaf people. Schools encouraged the development of professional expertise and their staff served as advocates and campaigners on behalf of their pupils. The growing availability of special education operated as a counterweight to economic and social exclusion. The absence of comprehensive specialist provision meant that the situation of other physically disabled people was often grim. Such individuals tended to merge into the mass of the poor and details about their condition can be hard to distinguish from other groups who comprised the `residuum' of Victorian society. The impact of changing attitudes to poverty and the role of the state, particularly in the areas of child education and health, are further examined.