A blog about universal and accessible design

Monday, December 13, 2010

online disability history

Image: Grey Sweatsuit, hanging in exhibition case with shelves of folded, identical suits next to it. From "Out from Under: Disability, History and Things to Remember," at Ryerson University.

From the quote accompanying this piece in the exhibition:

[T]he memory that has stayed with me so powerfully is that of the singlemost prevalent institutional “outfit”—the ill-fitting, nondescript, grey sweat suit. In choosing this “object” I was struck by how the sweat suit—devoid of any labels, markers or designer logos— represented the monotony and routines of institutional life.

Preparing a talk on the history of assistive technology and innovation recently, I drew on some great online resources for some of my older images and stories. It made me realize I had some across some of these sites entirely by accident, via links to links to links.. and maybe it would be helpful to compile a couple of them here.

I would love more links, suggestions, etc in the comments!

Top 5 Disability History Websites
Note: all of the sites below include image captions and are (I believe) screen reader accessible.

National Museum of American History: Disability Rights and Polio exhibitions. These sites provide ongoing access to two wonderful exhibitions curated by Katherine Ott at NMAH. I also recommend the volume Ott edited (along with David Serlin and Stephen Mihm), Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics as one of the best (only?) history books on technology and disability.

Disability History Museum
: an ongoing, ever growing online database of images and text related to a long history of disability (mainly US oriented). Strengths in ephemera (photos, clippings, brochures) on everyday life. Use the sidebar to search by keywords, time periods, etc.

Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley) Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Collection: Excellent, cross-reference-able source for primary source documents, (some) photographs, and an unbelievable oral history collection related to the Disability Rights Movement (mainly American and Californian). Easiest to get to are names and organizations, many of which have short audio/text clips from oral histories. To go deeper, the full texts of the oral histories are also available - providing hours (or months/years) of reading material. A highlight for Disability History scholars: the late Paul Longmore's oral history - providing a very rich, deep discussion of his and others' origins in disability studies scholarship.

Ryerson University's Out from Under: Disability, History and Things to Remember: This is really more of an experiential site than one with hard facts and famous names - looking at specific objects and short texts that evoke Canadian disability history (such as the sweat suit above). Great images and everyday object interpretations - particularly covering the history of institutionalization and intellectual disability.

The Missouri History Museum's Action for Access: Changing Perceptions of Disability in American Life: a friend recently pointed me to this site, a multimedia presentation on current and recent past perspectives on disability. The "disability rights movement" tab includes a recap of disability history in the US in general, with a special focus on Missouri. A great example of how deeply local disability history is. Includes historical images, videos of people with disabilities telling their personal stories, and reference links.

Honorable Mention
these sources are more limited in focus - but still good sites to hit for disability history.

Museum of disAbility - a virtual museum with artifacts and documents on disability history. I find their interface a little overwhelming, but there are good materials to be found (similar scope/content to the Disability History Museum, above).

Disability History Timelines - someday I would love to see (or make) a compilation of all the disability history timelines I have seen. In the meantime, here are two:
Timeline from the ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement by Fred Pelka
Timeline from the Disability Social History Project

The New York City Origins of the Disability Rights Movement (link goes to audio mp3 - for the main site click here; no transcript online) - a talk from Warren Shaw, historian of New York City whose father, Julius Shaw, was an early disability rights activist. Very interesting story that has not really been told in standard disability history books/timelines.

Temple University's Disability Studies Blog - posts and links about disability studies and disability history

H-Disability - email listserv for disability history discussion/posts