Disability as a topic is a sensitive and, even at times, a controversial one. Why is it so controversial? Well, simply because people percieve and think about disability in different ways. Sometimes (when we don’t even realise it) we portray people who consider themselves to have a disability as objects of pity and the person we are objectifiying may take offense to that opinion. It could be argued that most of us define people and their lives by their disability rather than looking at the individual person as a seperate entity from their disability.
It is important to remember that not every person who had a disability in the past lived a life of extreme difficulty or even sadness because they were disabled.
As mentioned previously, we are under the guidance of D.M Turner, an historian who specializes in disability history and he showed us a source (image and text provided below) which we thought may interest you and we will provide a small analysis of the source to hopefully show how we must be careful at not generalizing disability.
Link to original document and web page – (http://www.nineteenthcenturydisability.org/items/show/7)
Perhaps when we think about disability in the past, we vision those with a disability in rags, on the street begging and homeless. This is not the case for the nutmeg grater above.
If you read the linked document underneath the image, you quickly learn that this nutmeg grater viewed himself as a merchant, who wants to earn his own living and be a seller, not a beggar.
The merchant is smartly dressed, and postioned upright, arguably in a soldier like manner. From the image alone we know the nutmeg grater wants to viewed as a business man, who is more concerned in selling his goods than being an object of pity. Perhaps we shouldn’t believe that people with disabilities in the past solely relied on the generosity of others and had no prospects, this nutmeg grater shows that not all those who were disabled were not prosperous.
There are more sources out there to defy stereotypes and generalisations of disability in the past and as project we want to convey disability in a different light. If this nutmeg grater was one of thousands of those who were disabled, how many more people with disabilities can defy the stereotypes? We aim not to ‘speak’ for the disabled as such but to provide a loudspeaker to their stories, so their voices and lives are heard, as a project we do not want to tell you how they lived in the nineteenth century, they will tell you, if you are willing to listen.
‘Disability is everywhere in history, once you look for it’. – Douglas Baynton