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Disability Museum opens online
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April 16, 2002 -- "Few of us realize that people with disabilities have a rich and dramatic history relevant to all Americans," says Laurie Block. "Nearly all of us know someone with a disability, and this has always been the case." As an expansion of her work in putting together the award-winning NPR documentary "Beyond Affliction," Block has opened the Disability History Museum at -- a searchable, theme-based digital collection that exists only online -- offering documents and images related to disability history in the United States, drawn from public and private collections around the country.

Highlights include a memoir by Isaac Hunt of his years in the Maine Insane Hospital -- "Astounding Disclosures, Three Years In A Mad House, 1852" -- a number of articles from the The Cripple Child Magazine from the mid-20th century, and essays by the late disability sociologist Irving Zola.

Materials in the Library date back to the 18th century -- "they illuminate daily life, work, charity, popular culture, local and national political milestones, shifts in visual representation and medical knowledge, and the rise and fall of a variety of social movements," says Block.

The Disability History Museum's Library is an extension and considerable expansion of the materials assembled by Block, Executive Director of Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc., for the award winning series Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project, which was broadcast on NPR stations nationally and won the 1999 Robert Kennedy Award In Journalism. Its Document Collection contains articles, pamphlets, letters, book excerpts, and other texts; its Visual Still Collection contains photographs, paintings, postcards, lithographs, and other visual materials. An Audio Collection will be added in the future. Virtual exhibits and education curricula are in the works as well.

The Library collecting policy is focused on U. S. primary source material from 1775-1990, covering topics that include physical, psychiatric, sensory, and cognitive disability issues across the generations, says Block. Currently, two collections are available, documents and visual stills, and they are searchable by keyword, format, date, source, title. "The collection is growing at the rate of approximately 100 artifacts a month," says Block.

The Museum invites feedback; you may email them at

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