Disability Awareness Month

Disability is Everywhere, Once You Think to Look for It

Peter J. Shields Library Lobby
Fall Quarter 2010

From famous icons such as Helen Keller and Louis Braille to freak show/circus performers, beggars, and pirates, disabled people have made up an important part of humanity since ancient times. Like other groups in history, they have been the victims of prejudice and misunderstanding; they were the first targeted in the Holocaust, and today face an average 70% unemployment rate. But they have also made important contributions to all aspects of society as inventors, teachers, politicians, artists, scientists, physicians, lawyers.

Thanks to the exciting equipment and technologies brought together at the new UC Davis Center for Accessible Technologies (CAT), more people will be able to develop their talents and make a fuller range of contributions than ever before.

Exhibits and descriptions provided by Catherine Kudlick, Professor of History, University of California, Davis

For additional information regarding Disability Awareness, please contact Jeanne Wilson, Director of the UC Davis Student Disability Center, (530) 752‑3184 or jxwilson@ucdavis.edu


The photos and text below describe the items on display in the Shields Library exhibit case.

Exhibit 1: A tactile replica of the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (INJA) in Paris

Metal three dimensional tactile replica of the INJA building

This replica celebrates where Louis Braille (1809-1851) invented his famous system of reading through raised dots.

Founded two centuries ago, institutions such as these were criticized for being more like prisons. But they also brought blind people together to share and test new ideas, like Braille's code. Note that Braille is almost always presented as a system for reading, when in fact it also gave the blind an opportunity to write.

Exhibit 2: Replica of the pump where the deaf-blind Helen Keller (1880-1968) allegedly uttered her first words

Cast metal replica water pump

Trinkets such as this replica water pump, which celebrates the life of the most famous disabled person in history, are on sale in the gift shop at Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama. A multilingual honors graduate of Harvard, prolific author, and an international champion of the blind, her outspoken socialism and feminism also resulted in an FBI file.

Exhibit 3: Book, "Forgotten Crimes: The Holocaust and People with Disabilities" by Suzanne E. Evans

Cover of Forgotten Crimes, the Holocaust and people with disabilities, byt Suzanne E. Evans

"Forgotten Crimes" chronicles the little-told story of how people with disabilities were the first victims of Nazi atrocities.

Viewed as "useless eaters," the deaf, blind, and those with developmental disabilities were seen as test cases that would help desensitize the German public to what would come. In the end, scholars estimate that nearly a million Europeans with disabilities were exterminated during the Holocaust.

Exhibit 4: A tactile map of Washington D.C. with Braille labels

Paper map with braille text and raised lines

Tactile maps of areas in Washington, DC are offered free as part of a "tactile" tour of our nation's capitol for blind people.

Thanks to the iPhone, fully accessible to the blind through a built-in program called VoiceOver, navigation is getting much easier.

Exhibit 5: Rubber toy of a pirate with eyepatch and hook for an arm

Photograph of rubber toy pirate

Figures of the popular imagination say much about the many conflicting ways we think about disability.

Though often portrayed with missing eyes or limbs, why is it so hard to imagine an adventurous pirate using a handicapped parking placard?

Exhibit 6: Book, "Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community, by Douglas Baynton, Jack Gannon, and Jean Bergey

Cover of Through Deaf Eyes

Is being deaf a disability?

Touting their unique language and culture, many Deaf activists in late 20th-century America didn't think so. And yet, accommodations such as ASL interpreters and video captioning have become key symbols of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). At the same time, "access" technologies like the telephone which, according to myth, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented to communicate with his deaf mother (but which isolated most deaf people until recent innovations), have become essential to hearing people.

Exhibit 7: Cartoon by Callahan showing two gunfighters in wheelchairs with one of them pointing a gun at the other and saying "This town ain't accessible enough for both of us"

 Cartoon by Callahan showing two gunfighters in wheelchairs with one of them pointing a gun at the other and saying "This town ain't accessible enough for both of us"

Callahan Cartoon:

"Don't laugh at the disabled!" we've all heard from adults. Why not? Historically, people with disabilities have been the source of cruel amusement – from freak show performers to cartoon characters. Yet there are ways that humor can be constructive, especially when it exposes popular misconceptions. Consider what makes a joke offensive vs what allows us to understand something new about our world.

Exhibit 8: Catalogue of artwork by Katherine Sherwood, Professor of Art Practice at UC Berkeley

Two examples of artwork by Katherine Sherwood

Following a major stroke that paralyzed her right side several years ago, Professor Katherine Sherwood started to reexamine her creative process.

She now juxtaposes abstracted medical images, such as cerebral angiograms of her brain, with fluid renderings of ancient patterns; the paintings thus explore and reveal, with a most unusual palette, the strange nature of our time and current visual culture.

Exhibit 9: Pictures of the iPhone and iPad, plus a Smart Pen

iPad with text representation of voiceover for the App Store and New Mail alerts Universal Design: examples from Apple. Samples of iPhone screens with Voice Control and VoiceOver software SmartPen with cradle and earphones

These first fully-accessible mobile electronic devices included out-of-the-box software that enlarges the screen or reads text out loud to all users. People with impaired vision can enjoy on-the-go games, web surfing, email, texting, social networking, and more. Deaf and hard of hearing people can text and use video chat functions and closed captioning on a variety of phones. Smart pens offer all users a chance to keep up in lecture. Just think of the possibilities if Louis Braille and Helen Keller had had devices like these!