SRO Celebrates Disability Awareness Week, 2-8 December 2012

Gerard Foley Friday, November 30, 2012 - 16:39

Today there is much community and government activity in promoting awareness about people living with disabilities, and widespread support for advocacy, care and their independence in the community. For instance, government agencies such as WA’s Disability Services Commission promotes disability reform, information about disability service providers, the inclusion of disabled people in the community, and issues to do with access and universal design. But these developments are really only very recent.

If we take an historical perspective the State Archives reveal the response by government and attitudes of the community, to people living with disability in WA, since the 19th century. The beginnings of moves for specialist schools for the blind, deaf and the developmentally disabled, dating right back to the late 19th century (Cons 1496, item 1900/0320) are well documented in WA's State Archives. The collection reveals that that many developmental and intellectually disabled people were placed in asylums 100 years ago (Cons 1120, item 25). But they also show the efforts by authorities and the community to cope with the large numbers of World War 1 returned service men, those who were wounded, maimed and ‘limbless’ or suffering from ‘shell shock’ (Cons 1497, item 1922/1903).

Because SRO’s online catalogue AEON is searched through the use of the original words in file and item titles, researchers need to be aware that terms that may now be considered as unacceptable descriptions for disabled people – terms such as ‘deaf and dumb’, ‘slow learner’ and ‘spastic’ – do occur. State Archives are a portal to our past and a bridge to the present and future; they reveal our history and from where we’ve come and sometimes they reveal uncomfortable truths. But it’s not all about insensitive language, because State Archives also document the beginnings and growth of the disability rights movement from the 1970s and the rise of public advocacy for disabled people living in the community, plus WA's response to the the United Nations sponsored International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. This event heightened community awareness and contributed to the establishment of the Disability Services Commission in the early 1990s.

The SRO is very pleased to join with the Disability Services Commission in celebrating Disability Awareness Week 2012, by displaying the Count Me In Display Kit in the SRO’s Search Room from 2 to 8 December 2012.

Gerard Foley, Senior Archivist