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mailman.JPG (21716 bytes)The History of

Miami, Florida 2001


The History of Disabilities

Click here to return to project exhibit's invitation webpage
Click here to visit University of Miami's HistoryDisabilityArt website to learn more about the project.




HistoryDisabilityArt Exhibit

            There are many ways to tell the story of who we are and where we have been.  The children of Riviera Middle School see a different world than does the academic historian or the collaborative artist.  This multimedia exhibit weaves together many voices to tell the story of persons with disabilities in America over the last one hundred years.

The Exhibit

The exhibit includes a collaborative mural, created by artist Xavier Cortada working with families and children with disabilities.  There is a timeline, written by historians Jeff Brosco and Chris Murchison, and illustrated by dozens of school children with the help of Lourdes Bravo and other teachers.  There are more pieces of art, a slide show, some video by Robert Gonzalez and Louis Lowy, and a web site by Christina Rojas.  Educators Paula Lalinde and Martha Sheldon helped with the content, design, and organization of each portion of the exhibit.  The children and families who collaborated with us—their words and ideas are the heart of the exhibit and shape the future of the timeline.

The Story

What the children and families taught us

            To have a disability is to be different.  There’s something about your body that makes you different from most other people.  Maybe your eyes don’t see or your ears don’t hear.  Maybe your legs don’t move you through space or your brain doesn’t get you through a book.  That’s it.   After that, it’s all the same.  You have the same emotions, struggles, longing, fears, joys, and pains as anyone else.  “Who am I?” anyone might ask.  “Why am I like this?”

            But you live in the world, so it gets complicated.  The differences in your body have names: visual impairment (eyes), sensorineural hearing loss (ears), spastic diplegia (legs), neurocognitive disability (brain).  And other names: blind, deaf, lame, retarded.  And still others: courageous, pitiful, broken, crippled.

            The names come from the outside, from people who aren’t different in the same way that you are.  Some people are trying to help, some are scared, others are mean or sad.  These emotions, and these names people use, are important in your life.  Doctors and teachers, friends and families, peers and policy-makers use language to understand who you are, how they feel, what they should do.  Do you have a disease to be cured, a learning deficit to be met, a condition to be pitied or endured or ridiculed?  Are you a burden to society or a gift from God?

            Here’s the irony.  There is very little that pulls you together with people with differences other than yours.   Sure there’s some connections, sometimes.  But in general you are you and nobody else, and it is only the outsiders who see you as the same, as “the disabled.”  Physical disabilities are different from cognitive ones.  Medical needs aren’t educational needs aren’t emotional needs.  You may even feel lucky that you don’t have some other kid’s difference—that would be so much worse you think, so you use the same language that an outsider would use, on “one of your own.”  So where’s the catch?  Here’s the only thing that pulls you together with all the kids who have a difference: you don’t want to be different, and they don’t either.

What history can teach families and their children

            You are right.  Being different is hard.  But here’s some news, which is probably not news to you.   There is joy and power in being different.  Look around you and see how your predecessors have changed the world.  See the curb cuts and wheelchair ramps, see the medical buildings and laboratories, see the teachers and doctors and therapists who trained specifically to help you.  See yourself—in school, in parks, at the beach.  Not forgotten in an institution or hidden away at home.  Do you know who did this?  You did.   Families and persons with disabilities, some famous and some anonymous, changed our world over the past 100 years.

History teaches us that you can make a difference.  You are surrounded by people of good will, who though they may be sad or scared, want to do what’s right.  Look how much you have taught us, our society.  We—all of us, you too—have laws to protect civil rights and educational needs.  We have 50 federal and state programs designed to make the world a better fit, and we spend over 40 billion dollars a year in research, education, home support, and health care so that things keep getting better.  You want to know what there was 100 years ago?  Only hospitals and institutional homes—places where no one wanted to go.

And there’s more.  Your predecessors—we call them disability rights activists—have taught us that there is no shame or honor in disability.  And many of us, including you, have learned that we all need to celebrate our differences, cry when we are in pain, laugh when we are happy, feel pride in our accomplishments, and recognize the endless variety of the human experience.



On Saturday, August 18th, 2001
at 1 p.m., Miami artist Xavier Cortada will join Dr. Jeff Brosco, Clinical Director of the UM Mailman Center for Child Development, began the project by leading families and children with disabilities through a series of workshops exploring the History of Disabilities.  The project was partially funded through the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council Community Grants program.  To learn more about the project, please read the letter sent to parents (below).





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July 11, 2001

 Dear Interested Folks: 

 Here at the Mailman Center for Child Development, we are launching a new art project and would like to know if you, your son or daughter or someone you know may be interested in participating.  Please read the description below.

 What:  This project will provide an opportunity for  20 children, youth and adults with disabilities and interested parents, to create a work of public art that captures the history, values and perceptions toward disabilities since 1930.  This project is designed to  improve people with disabilities' understanding and the public's understanding of today's disability culture and underlying issues.  We aim to educate over 3,500 people through an exhibit that will have a large   time line expanding over 70 years; a presentation of the history;  and artifacts representative of  former treatments and attitudes.  In addition, this exhibit will be incorporated into the Mailman Center's website and will be permanently displayed here.

 When: The artwork will be developed by interested children, youth and adults with disabilities and parents on Saturday, August 18th from 1:00 pm. til 4:00 p.m. here at the Mailman Center in the lobby.

On Saturdays, the art work will be directed by internationally known artist Xavier Cortada.  The time will begin with a brief historical presentation by pediatrician and historian Jeffrey P. Brosco, M.D., Ph.D.  This will be followed by time spent developing art work that reflects the participants ideas, feelings, and thoughts about disability. While the artist is working with the children, Dr. Brosco will lead parents in discussing the history of disabilities.  Later in August the art work and generated ideas will be worked into a mural by artist Xavier Cortada.   The mural will become part of a traveling exhibit.  

Who:   Participants are preferably 12 years or older and have an interest in art. Participants should be able to some degree assess/express their feelings about their special needs (learning, physical, hearing, vision, or speech. The child’s ability to understand the history lesson is not necessary. 

How to Register:   Space is limited. Call Raquel Morales as soon as possible to ask questions or register at 305-243-6123. 

Sincerely yours,

 Paula Lalinde



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