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Disability History through Primary Sources

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Helen Keller
Whitman Studio, photographer. (ca. 1904) Helen Keller, no. 8. , ca. 1904. October 28. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2009633161/.

DISABILITY HISTORY THROUGH PRIMARY SOURCES

Register for June 30, 2022 Orientation to Reform to Equal Rights: K-12 Disability History Curriculum - "Teaching Disability History: How the Civil War Changed Disability and American Government" - Link to Teaching Disability History workshop information

New Mini-Units Will Integrate Disability History across K-12 Curriculum - link to 11-03-2021 announcement 

The integration of the history of people with disabilities into the curriculum benefits all students.  Recognizing the many roles of people with disabilities across time can be especially powerful for students who struggle in their own lives.  Students engage when they connect with history that reflects THEIR experiences.  Furthermore, disability history is increasingly recognized as vital to a full understanding of U.S. history, including in the 2018 Massachusetts standards. For further thoughts, watch a one-minute video clip, "Why focus on History of People with Disabilities?" and read the essay Why Teach Disability History?   

Primary sources from the Library of Congress, the Disability History Museum, and other collections can provide entry points and deepen exploration into historical events. Primary sources add immediacy, such as the faces in a photograph, the emotional tone of a drawing or song, or the complex look of a handwritten document. Documents from multiple points of view can illuminate conflicting ideas and events. Varied media, including maps, oral histories, published reports, and graphs offer many options for connection and investigation. Guided video tips and for finding primary sources building primary source sets are in our Teaching Resources. Also see the Library of Congress research Guide for Middle and High School Students

Download teacher-developed Model Lessons on Disability History that directly address content in the 2018 Massachusetts History and Social Science Framework. For support in understanding of the scope and flow of Disability History, see Disability History Timelines.

 

I was reminded in a conversation with disability advocates this week of how important it is for teachers to set rules for respectful use of language before they begin looking at primary sources with students, because some historic sources absolutely will contain offensive terms. Avoiding those terms in primary sources only shelters and empowers the bigoted ideas. Yet teachers must support students who could be upset to encounter them and clearly lay out practices for discussion, research, and classroom behavior. Browse the Know and Support Students page.    

- Rich Cairn, Emerging America

 

Primary Sources on Disability History

Explore–including a brief overview of the topic–in this Disability History primary source set from Emerging America.

Library of Congress

Disability History Museum

  • The wholly online Disability History Museum offers hundreds of primary sources, background essays, and other resources. The museum examines the people, lives, and institutions of disability from the founding of the nation to today. Looking across disabilities and ages, the site aims to help all users deepen understanding of variation and difference in national and community life.

Further Collections and Resources on Disability History


Crossover Themes of Disability History

State history standards and textbooks across the U.S. commonly emphasize a similar structure of topics in history. Even in states that do not yet explicitly list Disability History as a topic to be covered, the following themes offer places where teachers can integrate key moments and concepts of Disability History.

  • Homes Almshouses (Pre-History – 1900) – People with Disabilities in Traditional Communities 
  • Founding of Schools and of Asylums – (1820-1860) Antebellum Reform Movements
  • Civil War Veterans – (1861-1900) Impacts of Civil War / Growth of Federal Government
  • WWI Veterans – (1917-1932) Progressive Era / Propaganda / Impacts of WWI
  • Important consequences of the Industrial Revolution (1880-1940) – Influence of Social Darwinism and Eugenics
  • Social Security Disability – (1933-1977) Progressive Era / New Deal / Responsibilities of Private Sector vs Government
  • Civil Rights include Disability Rights – (1962-1990) Cold War Era Social Protests
  • Passage of the Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) 

Selected Readings on Disability History

 

Field hospital with 6 beds, soldiers in casts, slings, and in beds.
Model Lessons on Disability History

A collection of 15 lesson plans with a range of disability history topics, written with accessibility in mind. 

Upcoming Workshops


A Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant supported Emerging America to create a free K-12 Disability History Curriculum: Reform to Equal Rights…
This online course will harness current events to deepen understanding of immigration across American history, from the founding of the nation through today. L…
Fully online. Five days delving into the techniques that makes History's Mysteries students' favorite part of the school day.   "It was so fun to see each of…