Virtual Bookshelf: Disability Pride Month Celebrate Disability Pride Month and the contributions of disabled Americans by exploring NEH-funded projects that expand disability access and research and support the teaching and preservation of disability history and experience. NEH celebrates the July 26, 1990, passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability. Modeled on other civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, color, age, national origin, or religion, the ADA guarantees Americans with disabilities the right “to equal opportunity.” A person with disability is defined by the ADA as a person with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” For more information on the ADA, check out ada.gov.
NEH-Supported Projects on Disability
As captured in this Oscar-nominated documentary, life in the 1970s at Camp Jened—a summer camp for the disabled—was vibrant, free-spirited, and the foundation for a revolution that would transform the lives of both campers and those who would follow. Told from the point of view of James LeBrecht, a former camper and one of the film’s directors, Crip Camp gives an intimate look into the lives of disabled teens and their fight to move “from oppression to empowerment, from infantilization to freedom.” The scripting of the 2020 documentary was funded by an NEH grant. Watch the trailer here.
NEH funding to the American Foundation for the Blind enabled the digitization of AFB’s archival collections and the creation of the Helen Keller Archive, a fully accessible and free online archive containing the world’s largest collection of letters, speeches, scrapbooks, photographs, and artifacts relating to Helen Keller. This digital archive makes important materials documenting Keller’s life and work accessible to blind, deaf, deafblind, sighted, and hearing audiences alike.
Through Deaf Eyes explores 200 years of Deaf life in America through the stories of people, eminent and ordinary, and their perspective on the events that have shaped Deaf lives. Interwoven throughout the two-hour film are six short documentaries produced by Deaf media artists and filmmakers. Produced by WETA and Florentine Films in association with Gallaudet University, Through Deaf Eyes focuses on deaf history through the lens of lived experiences, not stories of overcoming and sentimentality. The film is accompanied by a companion website and online exhibition presenting a wide range of resources on deaf history and culture.
Sara Hendren suggests new ways of looking at our built environment in this NEH Public Scholar book that focuses on the links between disability, innovation, and creativity. Instead of accepting concepts of “normalcy” in design, Hendren uses the experiences of the disabled and their encounters with everyday objects and assistive technologies to ask readers to imagine a world that better meets the wide range of needs in their communities.
The Hastings Center’s public discussions on disability, supported by an NEH Community Conversations grant, continue through 2021. To date, four conversations have been published for public access: “Questioning Cure: Disability, Identity, and Healing”; “Disrupting Ableism with Artful Activism”; “Navigating: On Disability, Technology, and Experiencing the World”; and “Belonging: On Disability, Technology, and Community.”
NEH grants have assisted Dennis J. Frost in researching and writing More Than Medals, the first in-depth look at the Paralympics and disability sports in Japan. An additional grant to the book’s publisher, Cornell University Press, allows More Than Medals to be made available to the public as a free ebook through the NEH Fellowships Open Book Program.
Eva Feder Kittay reframes traditional questions in philosophy to include those with cognitive disabilities, reconciling her experiences with her disabled daughter with philosophically normative conceptions of “the human.” Through Learning from My Daughter, Kittay complicates existing ideas of what makes a good life and probes the ethics surrounding care of the cognitively disabled.
Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History
NEH funding to PBS-supported public events in 30 U.S. cities and a national public engagement initiative around the 2015 premiere of Debt of Honor, a documentary by Ric Burns that examines the experiences of disabled veterans and their place in American society after returning from war. Through partnerships with WETA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, local veterans organizations, and television stations across the country, the PBS Stories of Service initiative has helped bring attention to these often forgotten service men and women and the human cost of war.
Extraordinary Bodies, a cornerstone text of disability studies by scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, established the field upon its publication in 1997. Researched and written with support from an NEH Fellowship, the book framed disability as a minority discourse rather than a medical one, and laid the groundwork for an appreciation of disability culture and an inclusive new approach to the study of social marginalization. NEH grant support also enabled publication of Garland-Thompson’s groundbreaking 1996 anthology, Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, which probes America’s disposition toward the visually different through an examination of the freak show in American history. More recently, Garland-Thomson was awarded an NEH Public Scholar grant to research and write “How to Be Disabled” examining the challenges and opportunities of “living well” with disabilities.
An NEH grant supported strategic planning for an online portal to primary sources on the social, political, and medical history of disability from archival collections across the country. The proposed Disability History Portal is a collaborative effort by the national Disability History/Archives Consortium, which aims to promote the integration of collections, preservation, access, and the development of education resources about disability history.
Take an in-depth look at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s experience with disability and paralysis in James Tobin’s book The Man He Became, written with support from an NEH fellowship. Tobin explores how FDR rose to become of one of America’s most popular presidents, despite the odds stacked against him. By envisioning FDR’s rise in political power through the lens of disability, Tobin argues that “FDR became president less in spite of polio than because of polio.”
Sandy Sufian’s forthcoming book, Familial Fitness: Disability, Family, and Adoption in Modern America, links the history of adoption to disability history, examining how concerns about disability and pathology have shaped adoption and family-building practices in the U.S. To learn more about Sufian’s NEH-supported research, read an article based on the book project from 2014.
This summer, twenty-eight K–12 teachers from around the country will participate in a one-week NEH summer institute hosted by Wayne State University that will explore disability and identity in history, literature, and media. The scholar-led program will engage educators in discussions around disability in the K–12 humanities curricula and help build a national network of resources enabling educators to incorporate study of disability and identity into classroom teaching.
State Humanities Councils
State and jurisdictional humanities councils around the country partner with NEH to provide resources, articles, and projects on disability directly to their communities. At Nevada Humanities, for example, Aliza Pantoja wrote “A Love Letter to the Mentally Ill in Celebration of Shared Humanity,” encouraging readers “to become better advocates for a more compassionate and empathetic world, where people with disabilities are considered ‘different,’ but not ‘less.’” Georgia Humanities and the University of Georgia recently conducted a “Shakespeare and the Poetics of American Sign Language” webinar, which included ASL interpretation and live closed captioning. Also check out Humanities Texas’s 2018 Outstanding Teacher Award-winner Melody Townsel’s disability book recommendations, included in the council’s “A Midsummer Night's Read: Summer Reading 2019” list.
In anticipation of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, NEH and National History Day created the Building a More Perfect Union lesson book, available through NEH’s education portal, EDSITEment. The book provides a lesson plan on the Americans with Disabilities Act with primary sources and activities to assist with student learning.
Humanities Magazine Articles