For the last 240 years, American politicians and philosophers have steadily touted the United States as a near-Utopia, founded on the indelible rights of freedom and self-determination. Even with those in mind, America has made some serious mistakes.
Most Americans are very familiar with the story of African-Americans overcoming slavery, women working to achieve equal rights, and the civil rights movement. Lost among these widely-known struggles is the story of the disabled in America. As a population, the disabled have fought tooth and nail to overcome laws and discrimination that few ever knew existed. With the goal of education, the Museum of disABILITY History has taken on the mantle of telling the story of disabled history in America.
Founded in 1998, by James Boles, the president of People Inc., a non-profit that provides support to the disabled, the museum is the first of its kind in the world. The museum begins in 1750, and holds a number of artifacts used by or used on disabled people in America. This distinction between choice and mandate proves important throughout the museum, highlighting the difference between wheelchair and straightjacket and showing a dichotomy that has always plagued the disabled population.
Among the artifacts used to help the disabled is the only Invacar in the entire United States. Invacars were smaller cars with a wide wheelbase, and were targeted towards disabled drivers before being discontinued in the late 1970s.
Even those well-versed in the history of the disabled could be surprised by the information in the museum. The exhibits on American eugenics, and discriminatory laws against the disabled are especially shocking and highlight an era of intolerance many Americans undoubtably shy away from in embarrassment. The museum has 8 total on-site exhibitions, and sponsors a number of traveling exhibitions as well.
All the exhibitions focus on improving understanding the history of disability and empowering those who are disabled.