History of The Arc

The Arc was founded in 1952 by a group of parents of children with developmental disabilities who wanted their children’s abilities to be respected and their independence encouraged.  Since that time, The Arc has grown in size and scope.  As a leading advocate and service provider for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, The Arc is proud of the accomplishments it has made which have expanded the opportunities available to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Woman holding and smiling at her small child


The Power of Parents

The Arc has a rich history spanning 60 years and marked by accomplishment.  We continue to carry out the mission and vision of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as their parents and siblings.

In 1950, a small group of parents and other concerned individuals came together to act as voices for change. At the time, little was known about the condition of intellectual disability (at the time referred to as ‘mental retardation’) or its causes. There were virtually no programs and activities in communities to assist in the development and care of children and adults with intellectual disability or to support families.

It was common at that time for doctors to tell parents that the best place for their child was in an institution. Emboldened by their collective desire to raise their children in the home and their stubborn refusal to accept that institutionalization was the only option, The Arc’s founders fought even harder.

Like every parent of any child, they wanted more for their children. They wanted their children to lead fulfilling lives out in the community and not shuttered away in dark institutions. It was in that spirit that The Arc was born.

The early days

At the outset, the organization was committed to altering perceptions of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to educate parents and others regarding the potential of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Arc also worked to procure services for children and adults who were denied an education, the right to attend day care and preschools, and the right to work.

Growing with the times

Over the last 60 years, The Arc has grown and adapted to the changes that people with disabilities face across their life span. Through the decades, The Arc has seen several name changes, advocated for the passage of state and federal legislation on behalf of people with disabilities and established a broad network of state and local chaptersthat range from small voluntary groups to large, professional organizations.

Timeline of Accomplishments

Historical Accounts

Our rich history leading to successful outcomes would not be possible without the significant number of dedicated parents, family members, volunteers, staff and other advocates from all over the nation who share our vision.  The following testimonies are historical accounts from individuals that were either founders, or were present to witness the origins of the organization. Because these are historical documents, they reflect terminology that was in common usage notably ‘mental retardation,’ a term that is no longer in favor and is not employed by The Arc.