Throughout history, people with intellectual disability have been treated in degrading, paternalistic, hostile, disrespectful and sometimes cruel ways.
They have been institutionalised, marginalised and systematically pathologised. Societal views about this group have historically included a broad spectrum of beliefs ranging from the Eugenics Movement of the early 20th century, which supported the sterilisation and euthanasia of people with intellectual disability (Goggin & Newell, 2005), to current times where the rights of people who have a disability to live good lives as valued members of their community are recognised (if not fully realised) through national legislation (such as the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992) and the UN Convention (UN, 2006).
While there have been significant shifts towards a higher level of acceptance and understanding of people who experience intellectual disability, in reality we still see a wide variety of societal, community and individual views that represent various points across the entire spectrum. For example, people who do not experience intellectual disability are sometimes afraid of interacting with people with an intellectual disability, due to their own inexperience, lack of understanding and pervading negative social views about intellectual disability. This experience of unfamiliarity and lack of involvement with people who have an intellectual disability is a direct result of the historical context where institutionalisation, segregation and various other forms of social exclusion of people with disabilities were common.
It is not surprising then, that people with intellectual disability are often excluded from the types of counselling and personal supports available to other members of the community, and that professionals working in these roles are subject to the same misunderstandings and inexperience with this group as the wider population.