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Smithsonian Spotlights Disability History

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With a new exhibit focusing on disability history, the Smithsonian Institution is ushering in a first for the venerable network of museums.

The exhibition from the National Museum of American History, which was unveiled this week, explores everything from stereotypes to laws, technology and issues in everyday home life for people with disabilities.

Featuring images documenting more than 50-years worth of objects and stories collected by the Smithsonian, the exhibit is the museum’s first to be presented exclusively online.

“Many stories and events related to people with disabilities never make it into the history books or shared public memories,” said Katherine Ott, curator of medical science at the National Museum of American History. “Knowing this history deepens the understanding of the American experience and reveals how complicated history is.”

Among the objects featured in the exhibition titled “EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America” are prosthetics, items from protests, buttons and t-shirts used by disability activists, wheelchairs, medical devices, text telephones for the deaf and Braille writers.

Officials at the Smithsonian say they plan to build upon the permanent online exhibit, with additions and frequent updates as well as a vibrant social media presence.

The National Museum of American History previously highlighted people with disabilities with a physical exhibition at the Washington, D.C. museum titled “Disability Rights Movement” which was on display in 2000 and 2001.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. Kate says:

    Interesting. The irony is that the Smithsonians (various buildings) and many other monuments and public buildings in Washington DC are rarely accessible themselves. During a recent trip I was unable to visit many locations, rooms or was relegated to non ADA-compliant facilities. Try getting in the door at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Secondary entrance, back hallways and freight elevators just to get to the main exhibits. Some rooms were completely inaccessible. Toilet rooms were downright unusable.

    Let’s look at why the Federal Government and its facilites are exmept from complying with accessibilty requirements.

    – an architect in a wheelchair

  2. Vernon says:

    I see that your list of topics does not have housing,
    at this I’m helping people who are disable in many
    areas, that need or have housing, under other programs,
    than HUD Sec. 8, and are being disriminated.

    Some of them have mental health issues, and when they
    try to get help, they are looked at as being crazy.

    With Thanks.
    Vernon Montoya.

  3. Ted says:

    In sports jargon,
    “Its a swing — and a miss.”

  4. Amy Goldman says:

    The home page for the exhibit is not accessible to people who use screen readers – the alt tags on the pictures say “people and objects” rather than describing each picture. The Smithsonian has a way to go.

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