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Accessibility in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Archives

Introduction to Accessibility in Archives

This page includes resources about accessibility in archives and special collections for those working in archives. The word "accessibility" in the archival field is often used to refer to physical and intellectual control of collections that may be unprocessed, restricted, or deemed too fragile for direct handling by the public. On this page, accessibility also refers to the ability for archives to be inclusive places for people with disabilities as users, contributors, and colleagues. Below are guidelines, articles and books from the Pratt Libraries catalog

Archival Images as Open Resources

As part of an exhibition EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America, the National Museum of American History created six publicly available posters from archival images included in the exhibit. These files can be downloaded so that the public can use the posters in classrooms, dorms, offices, for presentations, or in other ways. The posters are available in English and Spanish.

Society of American Archivists

In 2019, the Accessibility & Disability Section (ADS) of the Society of American Archivists was founded to engage archival professions on topics of accessibility and disability, visible and invisible, including archives workers with disabilities, users with disabilities, disability in the historical record, and the accessibility of collections, physical and digital spaces, and events.

Archivists with Disabilities

Below are resources for equitable employment in archives and recommendations for accessibility from archivists with disabilities.


Search ArchiveGrid

Find more archival collections related to disability. Now freely available from OCLC Research as a tool for discovering and exploring archival and special collections materials, ArchiveGrid includes nearly two million collection descriptions from libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are used to index topics represented in collections. 

Guidelines for Accessible Archives for People with Disabilities

Ethical Cataloging and Description

These journal articles explore how knowledge organization in archives has impacted the ways in which difference is understood, and how public narratives of normality and deviance are constructed by archival description.

Available through Pratt Libraries  🔑

An Exhibit Case

Display of disability zines

"Disability Zines Exhibit" by Barnard Library Zine Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This exhibit, installed on the occasion of the Barnard Center for Research on Women Scholar & Feminist Conference, "Movements: Politics, Performance and Disability," seeks to shed light on the voices of women living and working with disabilities—telling their stories via the D.I.Y. mythos of the personal, self-published zine.

Disability Focused Archives

Archives and collections that focus on disability history and experience can be inspirations for programming, interpretation, and collection activation. 

The Disability History Museum is a virtual project. It aims to provide all site visitors—people with and without disabilities, researchers, teachers and students—with a wide array of tools to help deepen their understanding of human variation and difference, and to expand appreciation of how vital to our common life the experiences of people with disabilities have always been. The collection includes over 3,000 primary source documents and images, and continues to grow.

The Texas Disability History Collection at the University of Texas Arlington emphasizes the pioneering role played by a racially and ethnically diverse cast of Texan disability rights activists in fighting for equal access to education, work, union membership, public transit, and sports. The collection also aims to help students and scholars from across the state and nation to incorporate regional and racial diversity into disability history and civil rights narratives.

The digital Helen Keller Archive enables students with disabilities to see themselves in history, and to shape that history through unmediated, independent research. Equally, it is important for sighted and hearing children to learn about the achievements of disabled people.

The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada directly engages communities in developing accessible resources to bring to light the history of eugenics in Canada. The 20th-century ideas and practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of humanity, known as eugenics, were influential across the world. In 1928, the province of Alberta introduced the Sexual Sterilization Act, which promoted the practice of surgical sterilization for those deemed “mental defectives”, a practice in effect until 1972. The Living Archives creates a communal space to explore the relationships between that history and current policies and practices by working directly with eugenics survivors in Alberta to tell their own personal stories.

The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Archives at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library holds oral histories, audio and video clips, and archival papers exploring the social and political history of the disability movement from the 1960s to the present.

  • Campus archives reveal genesis of U.S. disability rights movement. This article discusses the genesis of the archive, and the process of interviewing over 100 people whose oral histories reveal the genesis of a powerful movement that won remarkable improvements for the disability community at Berkley and across the nation.

Involvement and Outreach

Collaborating with people with disabilities is critical to recognizing institutional barriers, assessing the efficacy of outreach and accessibility initiatives, and eliciting discussion around catalog descriptions related to disability history. 

Available through Pratt Libraries  🔑

Books from the Catalog