The Interval, #12, disability in museums

Welcome to The Interval (#12), VocalEyes’ weekly selection of accessible cultural experiences available online. This week’s edition has been compiled by Jenni Hunt, curator of Our Objects on Twitter, selecting daily objects linked to disability from museum collections. This week’s edition examines how museums are working to share stories around disability.

The Liverpool School for the Blind

The Liverpool School for the Blind was first founded in 1791 by Edward Rushton, a blind abolitionist. An exhibition about the school ran in 2018, and the history of the school is available online, as is an audio guide which sets out the story of the school and the exhibition. You can learn about the questions asked of applicants to the school, enjoy the film created by students at St. Vincent’s School for Sensory Impairment in West Derby, and read about the skills that were taught at the school.

The Liverpool School for the Blind was just one of eight locations associated with deaf and disabled people in Bristol, Liverpool and London & the South East, whose histories were explored as part of the History of Place project that ran from 2016 to January 2019.

NDACA

Cartoon
A black and-white-cartoon by Crippen shows a man with dark glasses and a guide dog in an Allergy Clinic. The doctor, a wheelchair user, brandishes his stethoscope and says “The allergy tests show that you’ve been exposed to high levels of discrimination  and prolonged periods of patronisation!”

The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive aims to tell the story of the disability rights movement from the 1970s to now, highlighting key figures. The project has collected together oral histories from those who shaped the Disability Arts Movement (, including an interview with the NDACA founder Tony Heaton and Allan Sutherland reading out his poetry. The artwork includes a number of cartoons (such as the image above) examining the potential discrimination disabled people face alongside biographies of disabled artists and activists, such as visually impaired broadcaster Ian Macrae. There is also an audio-described gallery examining the stories behind key artworks and images.

Disability in museums

A history of the Disability Rights Movement put together by the Smithsonian aims to present key stories and ideas, while Whatever Happened to Polio examines the history and impact of the most notorious disease of the 20th century until AIDS appeared.

Back in the UK, stories related to disability can also be found in the Science Museum’s website, both on Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care, the World War One-focused exhibition which ran until 2018, and in the pages for the Medicine Gallery, which opened earlier this year. Wellcome Collection’s Being Human gallery features disabled artists and practitioners in its exploration of how we think and feel about ourselves, our bodies and our relationship with the world around us. VocalEyes was commissioned to produce audio description for all exhibits in the gallery, but this highlights audio-described tour includes 11 stops from across the gallery. It includes Dolly Sen’s collecting tin for fictional charity ‘Help the Normals’. Dolly created the tin as a protest object to challenge assumptions about who we should pity.

Image: Dolly Sen and her artwork Help the Normals. Image credit: Angela Moore

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