Public Disability History

When and how do disability history and public history intersect? This resource list provides readings and resources on the history of making history physically or programmatically accessible to the public as well as tools for making history physically or programmatically accessible today. These resources should be helpful for anyone interpreting history collaboratively in public spaces such as museums and historic sites, archives and libraries, and other places where people communicate historical knowledge. We suggest you use an intersectional approach that incorporates perspectives of other marginalized people or groups. If you have additional resources you would like us to consider posting, please email the Disability History Association Secretary Nicole Belolan at

Overview – Accessibility and Public History Today

Sebastian Barsch, “How exclusive is disability history? How inclusive it may be?,” Public Disability History, February 15, 2016,

  • In this essay, Sebastian Barsch asks, “Can disability history be public? Can it be fully inclusive?”

Lawrence Hott, “Creating the History through Deaf Eyes Documentary,” Sign Language Studies 7, 2 (2007): 135-140, doi:10.1353/sls.2007.0005.

  • In this essay, Hott explains their approach in creating the History Through Deaf Eyes documentary which foregrounded, as Host put it, “deafness from the inside,” or, “the personal experiences of deaf people.”

Penny Richards and Susan Burch, “Dreamscapes for Public Disability History: How (and Why, and Where, and With Whom) We Collaborate,” Public Disability History, December 7, 2016,

  • In this conversation, Penny Richards and Susan Burch discuss what collaboration means when doing public disability history.

David Serlin, “Making Disability Public: An Interview with Katherine Ott,” Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006),

  • In this interview, National Museum of American History (NMAH – Smithsonian) curator Katherine Ott discusses how public and academic history are similar and different.

History of Accessibility in Cultural Heritage Settings

The Public Historian: Disability and the Practice of Public History. Vol. 27, no. 2 (Spring 2005),

  • A special issue of The Public Historian covering a variety of topics in public history through the lens of disability and accessibility.

Nicole Belolan, “An ‘effort to bring this little handicapped army in personal touch with beauty’: Democratizing Art for Crippled Children at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1919-1934,” New York History 96, 1 (Winter 2015): 38-66. 10.1353/nyh.2015.0012

  • An account of programs which let children with motion impairments and other physical disabilities visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art and other museums in New York City, notably decades before accessibility was deemed a right.

Public History and Advocacy

Sarah Handley Cousins, “Ghosts are Scary, Disabled People are Not: The Troubling Rise of the Haunted Asylum,” Nursing Clio, October 29, 2015,

Joseph Grigely, “Inventory of Apologies,” in VoCA Journal, December 7, 2020,

Mia Mingus, “Changing the Framework: Disability Justice How our communities can move beyond access to wholeness,” originally Written for the RESIST Newsletter, November, 2010,

Public History Accessibility Case Studies

Emily Beitiks, “Messy, Hard, Oh-So-Worthwhile Work,” Grantmakers in the Arts, October 2018,

  • A disability historian recounts her experience working on the
    Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights exhibit by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, which, to honor the legacy of the 504 sit-in, was constructed with universal design and accessibility in mind. She relates the unique accessibility challenges encountered during the process and provides tips to other public historians on how to incorporate accessibility into exhibits.

Caroline Braden, “Welcoming All Visitors: Museums, Accessibility, and Visitors with Disabilities.” University of Michigan Working Papers in Museum Studies 12 (2016),

  • A brief summary of various accommodations and programs museums both national and in the Detroit area offer for various disabled communities. The paper emphasizes that universal design not only includes people who would otherwise be left out, but also creates a richer experience for all museum guests.

Alima Bucciantini, “Getting in the Door is the Battle,” AASLH Blog, American Association for State and Local History, January 22, 2019,

  • One museum professional recounts her perspective on making museums welcome spaces for anyone with a disability, including the people that work there.

Amanda Cachia, “Disability, Curating, and the Educational Turn: The Contemporary Condition of Access in the Museum,” On Curating 24 (December 2014): 51-66,

  • This article argues that with the “educational turn” in curation, i.e., towards curators making exhibits and museum activities more intellectually accessible, they should also move towards making museum activities physically accessible for people with disabilities as well, drawing from 5 interviews with curators and other museum educators.

Katie Stringer Clary and Carolyn Dillian, Printing the Past: Building Accessibility and Engagement Through 3-D Technologies,” The Public Historian, 43, 2 (May 2021): 41-62,

Katie Stringer, Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman & Littlefield: New York, 2014).

  • This book provides a straightforward introduction to developing programming at museums and historic sites for people with disabilities with a focus on non-physical disabilities.

“All In! Accessibility in the National Park Service 2015-2020,” National Park Service,

  • A report from the National Park Service’s Accessibility Task Force on the state of accessibility across the NPS’ 400 national parks. Finding the accommodations and resources lacking, the report proposes a number of goals to be enacted over the next 5 years, such as upgrading existing facilities, ensuring new facilities are accessible, and promoting accessibility throughout the organizational structure of the service.

“Making Public History Accessible: Exploring Best Practices for Disability Access – 2016 Working Group” National Council on Public History. Accessed March 27, 2019,

  • A collection of short statements from public historians about various accessibility measures they are involved with, shared by the National Council on Public History as examples to spur larger discussion of the issues involved.

Tom Mayes, “The 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Leadership Forum, Dec 2, 2015,

  • This post describes the how implementing the ADA affected the field of historic preservation; the act exposed the necessity of accessibility measures and that making historic experiences accessible can improve the experience for all visitors.

Public Disability History Projects

Sara Hendren and Caitrin Lynch, Engineering at Home, Olin College of Engineering,

  • This project features one woman’s (Cindy) material management of disability at home in the twenty-first century.

Out from Under: Disability, History and Things to Remember, An exhibition organized at Ryerson University, School of Disability Studies, Art Beyond Site, 2014,

  • This online exhibition features the perspective of Canadian people with disabilities.

Tools For Public History Accessibility

American Anthropological Association, “Hosting Accessible Virtual Meetings,” (and other resources),

“Disability and Inclusion: Resources for Museum Studies Programs,” Art Beyond Sight,

  • A number of teaching modules designed for museum studies programs focusing on the importance of interacting with the disability community and how to facilitate museum accessibility.

“ACCESS-ed,” Rehabilitation Research Design & Disability Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,

  • This site provides both a general overview of Universal Design where it relates to education and specific measures that can be implemented across a college campus. It also provides evaluation tools for accessibility and other resources.

The Ohio State University, “Composing Access: an invitation to creating accessible events,” accessed
July 22, 2021,

“Resources and Training,” DO-IT,

  • A collection of guidelines and checklists created by The Center for Universal Design in Education to help teachers and school administrators create accessible content and environments for students with disabilities.

Aimi Hamraie, “Mapping Access Toolkit,” Critical Design Lab, February 26, 2021,

  • If you’re looking for a framework for using intersectional community expertise to assess accessibility and propose experience-inspired changes for a specific place, try implement some version of the methodology laid out in the “Mapping Access Toolkit.”

Sins Invalid, “Access suggestions for a public vent,” January 24, 2017,

“UDL-Universe: A Comprehensive Faculty Development Guide,” Sonoma State University,

  • A systematic collection of resources on universal design, universal design for learning, and practical measures professors can take to make their courses accessible to all.

WBDG Historic Preservation Subcommittee, “Provide Accessibility for Historic Buildings,” National Institute of Building Sciences, Sept. 28, 2017,

  • Official federal advice for preservation and restoration of historic buildings, provided by the National Institute of Building Sciences. It recommends and describes how to incorporate accessibility measures without compromising the nature and integrity of the original building. The website also provides general accessibility guidelines.

“Make your Outlook email accessible to people with disabilities,” Microsoft,

  • This link contains Microsoft’s official guidelines on making accessible emails in Outlook, with links to specific guides for creating alt-text, accessible fonts, and other organizational tips across various platforms.

European Blind Union “Making Information Accessible for All,” European Blind Union (EBU),

  • The European Blind Union (EBU) assembled guidelines on making a variety of media accessible. This web site includes the content translated into other languages.

“Creating Accessible Documents,” University of Washington,

  • This link leads to a resource provided by the University of Washington that contains guides to create accessible documents in a variety of formats and programs, as well as convert and update inaccessible documents.

Richard Ladner, “Making Your Conference Talk Accessible,” October 18, 2015,

  • This document briefly outlines common accessibility pitfalls in public presentations, describes frequently requested accommodations, and provides guidelines for working accessibility into presentations and talks.

Center for Students with Disabilities, University of Connecticut, September 2014,

  • This document is a list of universal design guidelines for creating accessible events. While intended for a college setting, they are easily transferable to other public events.

“Caption it Yourself,” Described and Captioned Media Program,

  • This page both describes what captions are and why they’re important for accessibility, but also provides links to tools that can create captions for videos.

Daniel Göransson, “Alt-texts: The Ultimate Guide,” Axess Lab, October 15, 2017,

  • This page from an accessibility consultant provides guidelines on how and when to use alt-text on images. It is especially useful as the author draws upon their experience using a screen reader and encountering unhelpful alt-text.

National Center on Disability and Journalism, “Disability Language Style Guide,” Revised 2018,

  • If you’re not sure how to refer to a person with a disability, this guide by the National Center on Disability and Journalism will provide you with guidance on terminology. The guide annotates many terms and how they should be used, if all, in public writing. Note that individuals may have preferences not reflected here.

Alexandra Morris, “A Brief Guide to Disability Terminology and Theory in Ancient World Studies,” Society of Classical Studies, August 30, 2021,

  • This guide provides addresses disability-related language issues and is useful for public-facing and scholarly writing and communications.

James Sumner, “Adding captions (subtitles) to your video,” July 22, 2020,

  • This is a very detailed run down of how to caption YouTube videos and use YouTube create transcripts.

Advocacy Groups and Consultants

Royal National Institute of Blind People, based in London, provides guidance to groups and individuals on making media accessibility for people who are blind or have sight loss.

Art-Reach, a Philadelphia-based advocacy organization, provides programming and guidance on making cultural heritage accessible.