Children Limited (Movie from 1951)

A historical look at institutional living for children with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD)


In 1951 the parents from The Arc of Washington State (then known as the Children's Benevolent League or CBL) made a bold public awareness move, producing a 30 minute movie called "Children Limited" in Seattle.  It is the world’s oldest known public awareness film about persons with intellectual disabilities.

The Library of Congress describes the film as follows:
Presents the general problem of mental retardation. Portrays institutional care of various types of mentally retarded children and explains the need for other kinds of service at the community level. Describes the possibilities, importance, and advantages of occupational, physical, and recreational therapy, and of job training. Demonstrates the cooperation and activity of parent and child within their environment, and indicates the value of home care.

The film quickly became popular throughout the United States. "Children Limited" gained worldwide recognition when the U.S. Information Agency circulated it, sending early copies to Norway, Israel, New Zealand, Brazil and Iran.

Courageous parents from the CBL like Hazel Venables showed the film dozens of times to lodges, civic and professional groups. Almost always, about a quarter of the audience would sit dumbfounded that two women were actually admitting that their children had the dreaded stigma of intellectual disabilities. It was not something discussed in polite society.

The project was funded by The Arc of Washington Trust Fund (established in 1950) in their first grant award and filmed at Rainier School in Buckley, Washington.

In 1965, parents of children who had intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) were told the best thing to do for their child was to place them in an institutional setting and go on with their lives. The children were termed "mentally deficient" and in those days it was believed these children were limited to living their whole life as a child, unable to ever accomplish anything. Today, we know this is not true. Adults with I/DD accomplish many things in their lives, participating fully in their communties. To view short videos of self-advocates who have lived in these types of institutions click here.

Many thanks to Mr. Larry A. Jones for finding this lost film. To learn more about this period of our history, you can read Mr. Jones book Doing Disability Justice - 75 Years of Family Advocacy.