For the last 240 years, American politicians and philosophers have spoken of the indelible rights of freedom and self-determination on which the United States was founded. But if you look back at the nation’s history, it’s clear that those rights have not been afforded to every person in America.
History books tell the stories of enslaved people fighting for their freedom, women working to achieve the right to vote, and the civil rights movement. One story that is often lost among these widely-known struggles is that of disabled people in America. Disability activists have fought to overcome laws and discrimination that many people never ever realied existed. 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 holds a number of artifacts used by or used on disabled people in America, dating back to 1750. The distinction between choice and mandate proves important throughout the museum. For example, one display highlights the difference between wheelchair and straitjacket, showing a dichotomy that has always plagued the disabled population.
Among the artifacts on display 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.
Know Before You Go
Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children.