The History of Disabilities
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Click here to visit University of Miami's HistoryDisabilityArt
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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
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 ustheir words and ideas are the heart of the exhibit
and shape the future of the timeline.
What the children and families taught us
To have a
disability is to be different. Theres
something about your body that makes you different from most other people. Maybe your eyes dont see or your ears dont
hear. Maybe your legs dont move you
through space or your brain doesnt get you through a book. Thats it.
After that, its 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,
The names come
from the outside, from people who arent 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?
irony. There is very little that pulls you
together with people with differences other than yours.
Sure theres 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 arent
educational needs arent emotional needs. You
may even feel lucky that you dont have some other kids differencethat
would be so much worse you think, so you use the same language that an outsider would use,
on one of your own. So wheres
the catch? Heres the only thing that
pulls you together with all the kids who have a difference: you dont want to be
different, and they dont either.
What history can teach families and their children
You are right. Being different is hard. But heres 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 yourselfin 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 whats right. Look how much you have taught us, our society. Weall of us, you toohave 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 homesplaces where no one wanted to go.
more. Your predecessorswe call them
disability rights activistshave 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).