Beyond Affliction: Disability-Centered Take on History

Radio Series and Online Museum Provide Disability-Centered Take on History

While learning the history of a place or a people, the most well-rounded understandings of gradual change are developed when history has been considered from multiple perspectives and through multiple lenses. These days, it is no longer uncommon to consider American history from the perspective of women, immigrants, and other groups whose experiences have been defined by historical context, and we teach students to consider the experiences of diverse groups of people – rather than the experience of a single group – in order to think critically about our history.

Thanks to the Disability History Project, a new resource is available for considering history from another perspective: that of people with disabilities. Beyond Affliction, a four-part radio series, serves as an auditory resource for learning about the experiences of people with disabilities since the beginning of the 1800’s. Created for broadcast on National Public Radio, Beyond Affliction features six hours of documentary radio centered around the experiences of people with disabilities and their families during the last two centuries. The project not only teaches about the lives of people with disabilities in times past but allows listeners to learn about the gradual change that has taken place by highlighting the contrast between the experiences of long ago and the experiences of today. 

While the program is not available to stream online, Beyond Affliction have been airing on NPR member stations and each of the four shows is paired with online audio excerpts, information about the historical context of the stories shared, as well as a bibliography that can point listeners towards further resources. Copies of the series can be purchased from the Disability History Museum if radio broadcasts are not locally available, and CD sets of the series offer the benefit of offering endless educational use.

For further studies of the history of people with disabilities, look to the Disability History Museum’s collections. As a web-based project, the Disability History Museum offers learning experiences that take place through interaction with information kept in a virtual museum – making information in the museum accessible to anyone with web access. Families can explore the museum’s online collection library and lesson plans in order to learn more about the treatment of people with disabilities throughout history.

In addition to exploring history through the lens of disability, families can connect what they learn from Beyond Affliction and the Disability History Museum to today’s treatment of people with disabilities and the current fight for equal access to adequate and affordable healthcare. By examining the policies and cultural norms of the past and comparing them to the current cultural climate, families can gain a better understanding of some of the roots of today’s struggles.

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