OPB is premiering a new documentary that exposes the complex and often shocking history of one of Oregon’s most notorious institutions — the Fairview Training Center. For nearly 100 years, it was Oregon’s primary facility for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For many residents, it was the only home they ever knew. For others, it was a living nightmare.
Oregon is considered a leader at in-home and community-based services and supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), but it wasn’t always that way.
Fairview, located in Salem, housed thousands of Oregonians with disabilities. The facility opened in 1908 as the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded.
Most of the first patients came from the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. For decades, residents were officially referred to as “inmates.” Many endured forced sterilizations, lobotomies, and systematic abuse. For many, Fairview felt like a prison.
By the 1980s, Fairview was among the nation’s largest institutions of its kind. It was overcrowded and poorly staffed. In 1985, a U.S. Justice Department investigation determined residents faced life-threatening conditions. Following a federal civil rights lawsuit, Fairview closed in 2000, with most remaining patients rehoused in the community.
Oregon has since rejected institutionalizing children with intellectual or developmental disabilities, which is why it was shocking when an investigation by OPB Reporter Lauren Dake revealed that some children with disabilities were being sent to institutions in other states.
In an ongoing series of reports beginning in early 2019 about Oregon’s foster care system, Dake wrote that over the last several years, the state had been sending some of the most vulnerable children — including some with disabilities — across state lines to out-of-state facilities, where many endured abuse and neglect. The state has struggled because there was nowhere in Oregon to place them.
Since then, state leaders have pursued action to cultivate in-state resources to house these vulnerable children.
OPB’s documentary “In the Shadow of Fairview” features archival photographs, rare film and interviews with several former Fairview residents who were placed there as children and spent years in the institution. It also includes interviews with employees, self-advocates and families.
The film premieres Monday, December 14 on OPB TV at 9 p.m. and online at opb.org. It is written and produced by Kami Horton and edited by Dan Evans; and made possible by the support of OPB members.
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the documentary is part of the national public media initiative “Move to Include.” Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and sponsored locally by Relay Resources, the initiative promotes inclusion for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, highlighting their unique and diverse experiences through the power of multimedia. Stories and resources from OPB and its public media partners are available to teachers, families and students through the PBS LearningMedia collection.