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Disability History Month: How far have we come? How far have we to go?

Posted by Esther Fox, Wednesday 18th November, 2020

More Than Minutes created at a Curating for Change Workshop November 2020
Disability History Month launches tonight on 18th November and this year the theme is access. This has led me to ponder on a number of things. Firstly looking back at History of Place where we explored 8 built heritage sites over 800 years of history. Many of these buildings had been designed, inhabited or used by D/deaf and disabled people. Their life experiences had become part of the very fabric of those buildings and many had significantly influenced building design. The stand out example for me was the story of Maggie and Ken Davis who pioneered the social model of disability which is the very foundation stone of the approach Accentuate follows. This model revolutionised the way disability was understood – it was then understood in the context of human rights. We are not disabled by our medical conditions but by society around us. Maggie and Ken then went on to design and build the first truly accessible housing development by and for disabled people. You can find out more about their story here http://www.accentuateuk.org/theblog?item=144 But how far have we come? This leads me to the journey Accentuate is currently embarking on, to open up access to the Museum Sector for D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people. We are leading the development of Curating for Change, which will tackle the underrepresentation of D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people in our Museums. Only around 4% of people working in museums define themselves as D/deaf, disabled or neurodiverse. It is also pretty unusual to see D/deaf and disability history reflected in our Museum’s collections and exhibitions, and even more rarely are these narratives interpreted by D/deaf and disabled people themselves. Curating for Change aims to open up this access through a work placement programme for D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse curators and for those who want to start their journey towards a career within museums. These placements will also shine a spotlight on previously hidden histories through a series of exhibitions and events. We are working with over 20 museums across the country to develop Curating for Change with thanks to funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund. Throughout Disability History Month we will be sharing wonderful items from their stores and archives that tell us about the lives of D/deaf and disabled people in the past. Follow our twitter account @curating4change to see the range of fantastic museums who are involved and get a flavour of the sort of heritage narratives we are hoping to uncover. This is an exciting opportunity to open up access to museums, in order to more accurately reflect the people they represent.

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