What is Disability History?

Whether it’s the community you live in, a church community, an ethnic community, or the community you live within your home, all communities have histories. These communities are bound by the people, places, and events that shaped them and made them what they are. The Disability Community is no different. Disability History is made up of people, places, things, and events that had an impact on people with disabilities.

What are some examples of disability history?

Some examples of disability history that people typically know about are:

  • The Eugenics movement
  • Christopher Reeve’s outreach work
  • Marlee Matalin winning an Oscar for "Children of a Lesser God."

These are all events in Disability History, but are probably well-known because they were remarkable events in history in general.

On the other hand, examples of disability history that people (much less young people with disabilities) rarely hear about include:

  • The Deaf President Now shutdown of Galludet University
  • The burning of Paul Longmore's book
  • The protest and shutdown of the HEW building in San Francisco.

These events are also critical to the Disability Rights movement and the development of its future leaders.

Why do I need to know Disability History?

Exposure to disability history gives young people with disabilities a sense of where we’ve been and where we need to go. Being aware of and understanding the people and events that are responsible for or contributed to our entitlement to a “free and appropriate public education” or the development of “self-determination” are only two examples of achievements made by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. They give us as a people, a context for developing and feeling a sense of pride in ourselves and our disabilities.