Disability History

Did you know that on December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly changed the name of the "International Day of Disabled Persons" (first observed on December 3, 1992) to the "International Day of Persons with Disabilities" (IDPD was first observed in 2008)?

ASL is a Real Language

"From a purely academic standpoint, ASL measures up to every spoken language in terms of complexity, utility and aesthetics. Sign language is much more than "a language of gestures." Most of the terms in the language's 50k+ word vocabulary do not consist of "acting out" what you're trying to say. Instead, understanding ASL's hand shape patterns and unique grammar reveals the elegant structure of the language.

ASL had its birth in 1817 when Thomas Gallaudet recruited Laurent Clerc to establish the country's first school for the Deaf. The Deaf community's first national university was later named after Gallaudet. For the next century and a half, the emerging American Sign Language was forcibly suppressed by advocates of the oral method. Deaf students' hands were struck or bound to keep them from signing. It was through a long battle that Deaf activists and scholars were able to prove to the world that ASL is a fully functional language on par with English or any other.

This journey, from 1817 to the present day,  produced an immense body of historical documentation. ASL students learn about the controversy of deaf education and the development of what it means to be capital-D Deaf. New hearing aid technology sparks ethical issues and an exploration of what it means to "fix" a disability. Social justice plays a prominent role in the story, as do the many forms of art produced by the Deaf community. It's all tied to the language that forms the powerful epicenter of Deaf culture.

ASL offers a viewpoint into both classic and modern linguistics, unlocking a new dimension of communication. Language and culture link in the fight for freedom of expression and the search for identity." 

This is an excerpt from an article originally written for FreshU by Evelyn Pae.

Annie Jump Cannon

Annie Jump Cannon was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. With Edward C. Pickering, she is credited with the creation of the Harvard Classification Scheme, which was the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures.

The daughter of shipbuilder and state senator Wilson Lee Cannon and his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Jump, Cannon grew up in Dover, Delaware. Cannon's mother had a childhood interest in star-gazing, and she passed that interest along to her daughter. Cannon had four older step-siblings from her father's first marriage, as well as two brothers, Robert and Wilson. Cannon never married but was happy to be an aunt to her brother's children.

At Wilmington Conference Academy, Cannon was a promising student, particularly in mathematics. In 1880, Cannon was sent to Wellesley College in Massachusetts, one of the top academic schools for women in the U.S. The cold winter climate in the area led to repeated infections, and in one instance Cannon was stricken with scarlet fever. As a result, she became almost completely deaf. Cannon graduated with a degree in physics in 1884 and returned home. Uninterested in the limited career opportunities available to women, she grew bored and restless. Her partial hearing loss made socializing difficult, and she was generally older and better educated than most of the unmarried women in the area.

This is an excerpt from an article originally written for Scientific Women: Annie Jump Cannon.

Braille – What Is It? How Did It Begin?

Braille is a system of touch reading and writing for blind persons in which raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet.  It also contains equivalents for punctuation marks and provides symbols to show letter groupings.  Braille's history dates back to the early 1800s and a man named Charles Barbier who served in Napoleon Bonaparte's French Army.  Learn more about braille by visiting the History of Braille webpage on BrailleWorks.

Disability and the African American Experience

African Americans and the disABILITY Experience is presented by the Museum of disABILITY History and a group of colleagues working in disability services at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Predominantly Black Colleges and Universities (PBCUs), and the Taishoff Center at Syracuse University.

Ed Roberts, the Disability Rights Movement and the ADA

This virtual exhibit celebrates some of the many key groups and people who made the ADA possible, explores how and why the ADA was passed, and concludes by looking at some of the major challenges still being faced by people with disabilities.

Google Doodle

Google Doodle pays tribute to Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake

Check out the Google Doodle for March 18 that recognizes the importance of accessible curb cut-outs with a tactile paving slab. This Google Doodle also pays tribute to Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake who invented the tenji block as it is known in Japan.

The Google Doodle shows a pair of feet in black sneakers and the bottom of a white cane used by persons who are blind. The cane’s primary uses are as a mobility tool and as a courtesy to others, but there are at least five varieties that each serve a slightly different need. The tactile bumps on the accessible curb cut-out serve as a warning to pedestrians who are blind or have low-vision that their pathway is about to transition to the street. #GoogleDoodle.

History of Disability Awareness in America

Japan’s Dark History of Persecuting The Disabled

Japan's Disability Shame: After the Second World War, the Japanese government actively sought to cull its disabled population through a program of forced sterilization. Disabilities have remained greatly stigmatized ever since.

NAZI Persecution of the Disabled: Murder of the "UNFIT"

The Nazi persecution of persons with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily “unfit” Germans from the national community. Visit this online exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth (NCLD/Y) Disability History Timeline

This Guide is designed to assist youth with and without disabilities to learn about the rich history of people with disabilities. Although designed primarily for youth and emerging leaders with disabilities, the guide can be used in multiple ways to educate a broader audience as well. Starting shortly before the United States was founded, the guide features examples of the remarkable diversity, creativity, and leadership that have shaped the disability community and American culture.”

National Park Services

Disability History - Telling All Americans' Stories. People with disabilities -- permanent or temporary, visible or invisible, are the largest minority in the United States. But their stories and histories often remain untold or their disabilities are hidden. “Disability stories” refer to the array of experiences by, from, and about people with disabilities represented across our nation.

President George H. W. Bush at the Signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990

View President Bush's remarks

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Signing Ceremony, July 26, 1990

The Power of 504 (open caption) Part I

Award-winning 18-minute documentary video, which captures the drama and emotions of the historic civil rights demonstration of people with disabilities in 1977, resulting in the signing of the 504 Regulations, the first Federal Civil Rights Law protecting people with disabilities. Includes contemporary news footage and news interviews with participants and demonstration leaders. Available in open caption, audio descriptive and standard formats.

The Holocaust Killing Centers: An Historical Nightmare for the Disabled

In the early years of the Nazi regime, 300,000 disabled people were systemically slaughtered as part of a twisted euthanasia program. Visit the GW Columbian College of Arts & Sciences featured story of English Professor David Mitchell leading his students on a pilgrimage to Germany to memorialize this largely unknown tragedy.”

The Power of 504 (open caption) Part II

Award-winning 18-minute documentary video, which captures the drama and emotions of the historic civil rights demonstration of people with disabilities in 1977, resulting in the signing of the 504 Regulations, the first Federal Civil Rights Law protecting people with disabilities. Includes contemporary news footage and news interviews with participants and demonstration leaders. Available in open caption, audio descriptive and standard formats.

Unworthy to Live

Learn About how Adolf Hitler viewed people with epilepsy, alcoholism, birth defects, hearing loss, mental illnesses, personality disorders, vision loss, developmental delays and certain orthopedic problems as “unworthy of life” and “marginal human beings.” Hitler encouraged what he called “mercy killings” or euthanasia” as a way of improving the “Aryan” race.

alt