A History of Disability In America: An Awesome Online Exhibit

“Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares or public places in the City of County of San Francisco, shall not therein or thereon expose himself or herself to public view.”

I read the above “Ugly Law” from 1867, directed at people with disabilities, in an online exhibit “EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America.” Just launched by the Smithsonian Institution, it examines all things related to disability, from stereotypes to technology, and includes thought-provking and informative text, historical photos of people with disabilities, along with images of old-time equipment such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and adaptive skis. There’s even a memorable poem. The site, the first of its kind, is designed to be accessible to all users, including those using specialized software for vision and hearing impairments.

The renowned astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” As the parent of a child with special needs, I say you have to know the past to appreciate the present. At times, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have the resources and technology we do (the photo of the  pair of baby shoes connected by a steel bar made me seriously grateful for Max’s foot braces). And even though at times I despair over the ignorance and discrimination I see out there towards kids and adults with special needs, it’s reassuring to know just how far we’ve come, even though we’ve still got a long ways to go.

I’m excited to click through the exhibit with both kids; it’ll be a great learning opportunity, and it will surely spark some good discussions.

From my other blog:

A moment of serious special needs mom bliss

When your child is finally able to entertain himself

8 ways pretend play can help kids with special needs

Image: Flickr/Walter Reed Historical Collection

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