The archival profession’s current definition of diversity, which underrepresents people with disabilities’ experiences and needs, was the focus of “Disability: Uncovering Our Hidden History,” a session at the 2013 CoSA/SAA Joint Annual Meeting in August. The session offered strategies to incorporate disability more overtly into diversity considerations. Barbara Floyd, university archivist and director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the University of Toledo (UT), provided an understanding of how to document disability history based on her experience developing a regional disability archives. I shared the results of a survey on reading room and website accessibility and spoke of the need for continued research. Session Chair Lora Davis, assistant archivist at Colgate University Libraries, offered insight into archivists’ further research and awareness of accessibility considerations. Bringing Disability History to the Archives While working at the Canaday Center in 2002, Floyd collaborated with the UT Disability Studies Program to sponsor a daylong history conference in northwest Ohio that addressed the public’s awareness of disability history. The conference brought together seventy-five individuals from many organizations and developed the Regional Disability History Archives Project and provided the Canaday Center with contacts that helped it start an acquisitions program. During the 1960s and 1970s, archivists began collecting women’s history, immigration history, and racial history to accommodate historians’ interest in a fuller past. At the same time, the disability rights movement spun off from the civil rights movement, and disability history became an important component of empowerment for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, archival collections documenting disability remained sparse. Indeed, prior to the Canaday Center’s acquisitions program, the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Research and Documentation Project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, was one of few major efforts to document people with disabilities. The Canaday Center’s acquisitions program expanded efforts to document an understanding of disability history, and the archives now has more than twenty collections of organizational records and personal papers.Many of the collections are from organizations that have assisted the disabled, including the Assistance Dogs of America; the Autism Society of Northwest Ohio, a grassroots organization founded by parents of children with autism; and the Toledo Rotary Club containing the papers of Alva Bunker, a person with disabilities. Bunker came to the Canaday Center’s attention because the acquisitions program identified the need to find personal disability histories in addition to organizational collections. The Toledo Rotary Club, long preserved by the Canaday Center, worked to assist disabled individuals, including Bunker. Most families hid their disabled children to avoid embarrassment, but with an alcoholic father and an overburdened mother, Bunker’s care depended on others.The Toledo Rotary Club sent Bunker to Detroit to be fitted with prosthetic legs and provided him access to an education.Although not as well known as Helen Keller, Bunker gained national attention. One article quoted the director of a home for disabled children in New York who said, “Though very well acquainted with the literature on the subject, I think I have never been more impressed with any achievement than that by Mr. Alva Bunker.” However, despite the Rotary’s work, Bunker remained overlooked in history until archivists made a connection between organizational records and personal histories. Giving the Disabled Access Disabled history is only part of the recognition due to disabled individuals. In recent years, archivists began reviewing how best to accommodate researchers with disabilities. In 2008, the SAA Archives Management and Records Management Roundtables’ Joint Working Group on Accessibility in Archives and Records Management completed an accessibility survey to understand how to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of people with disabilities. I reported on the joint working group’s research and compilation of “The Best Practices for Working with Archives Employees with Disabilities” and “The Best Practices for Working with Archives Researchers with Disabilities” at the 2012 SAA Annual Meeting. After my report, I encouraged attendees to share their ideas and concerns. Attendees acknowledged that obtaining input from users with disabilities in a nonintrusive and noninsulting manner was one of their greatest challenges. Due to these struggles, the joint working group sent an online questionnaire about working with people with disabilities to the Archives and Archivists discussion list. I used input from attendees to extend research with a two-part survey for archival users with visual, physical, and hearing disabilities. I sent the survey to members of H-Net Disabilities, a listserv with approximately six hundred members, informing them that their names would not be disclosed. Eleven initial responses came from members committed to fulfilling the survey, but only four returned completed questionnaires. Although further work is needed to gain a better understanding of users with disabilities, the survey offers some insight. The survey raised questions regarding disabled users’ unwillingness to disclose their situation in public. A few respondents replied they are happy that “someone is brave enough” to pursue the work, but chose not to discuss their situations. In addition, my definition of disability as being physically, visually, or hearing impaired was questioned by some respondents. One individual backed out of the survey because she believed she was “not disabled enough” with a spinal cord injury to answer the questions. The second part of the survey, which focused on web accessibility, illustrates why continued work remains important.The most in-depth replies came from respondents with sensory disabilities using websites, indicating that they struggled more with website content than reading room accessibility. For the survey, I selected websites of five archives and asked participants ten questions based on their use of the main website, online catalogue, and EAD finding aid. One question asked, “What factors do archives consider with regards to people with disabilities when designing their websites and uploading digital collections?” According to respondent #1, digital collections are merely scanned images of archival collections without accessible mediums.Furthermore, this respondent acknowledged that he rarely discloses his disability unless obtaining information requires disclosure of his vision impairment. A recent The American Archivist article by Wendy Duff, Elizabeth Yakel, and Helen Tibbo (“Archival Reference Knowledge,” which appeared in Vol. 76, No.1) also touched on the idea of disclosing disabilities, asking if individuals should have to mention their disabilities in order to get quality customer service. Continued Research Questions regarding website accessibility continue to remain a topic for research.Session Chair Lora Davis recognized that website accessibility will always remain in flux, but continued research will improve knowledge and accommodations offered to users. As Floyd’s work pointed out, recognizing people with disabilities begins with acknowledging their place in history.Furthermore, as one survey respondent pointed out, disability cannot be seen as simply a physical or sensory impairment.How we define disability as a profession impacts both our documentation of history and our users’ access to that history. How do you view disability and think research should proceed? How we define disability as a profession impacts both our documentation of history and our users’ access to that history
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