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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.
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  🔑
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.
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  🔑
Revisiting Archive Collections: Developing Models for Participatory Cataloguing
This article takes the work being done by the archive participants of The Mandeville Legacy project in the South East Region as a way of appraising the recently developed Revisiting Archive Collections (RAC) cataloguing methodology. Reflecting on some of the core professional assumptions that archivists hold about the ‘cataloguing voice’—that it should be single, neutral, informed, anonymous—this article considers the way that some recent archive theory and practice has begun to qualify these previous certainties. Each office of The Mandeville Legacy project worked with groups of disabled people to look at selected records reflecting the historical treatment of disability, and then sought to capture the responses and contributions which these generated and to incorporate them within catalogue descriptions.
Disability History: Voices and Sources, London Metropolitan Archives.
This article discusses the conference "Disability History: Voices and Sources" jointly organized by London Metropolitan Archives and English Heritage in London, England on March 22, 2013. Topics include different ways by which disabled people are documenting their histories, aims of project "Disability in Time and Place" of English Heritage and several disability historians and activists including Simon Jarrett, Sarah Chaney and Navin Kikabhai who gave presentations at the conference.
Toward Inclusive Outreach: What Special Collections Can Learn from Disability Studies
This paper seeks to begin a critical discourse relating to the design of inclusive outreach in special collections for persons with disabilities. This article briefly outlines the emergence of the Disability Rights Movement and its relationship to institutional libraries, highlighting in particular where we see opportunities for improving outreach to populations that have special access needs. The authors suggest strategies for building a program of user-centered, accessible outreach for special collections libraries, such as locating and partnering with key stakeholders, designing flexible instruction modules, and assessing outreach activities.
Books from the Catalog
Embodied Archive by
Publication Date: 2021-04-26
Embodied Archive focuses on perceptions of disability and racial difference in Mexico's early post-revolutionary period, from the 1920s to the 1940s. In this period, Mexican state-sponsored institutions charged with the education and health of the population sought to strengthen and improve the future of the nation, and to forge a more racially homogeneous sense of collective identity and history. Influenced by regional and global movements in eugenics and hygiene, Mexican educators, writers, physicians, and statesmen argued for the widespread physical and cognitive testing and categorization of schoolchildren, so as to produce an accurate and complete picture of "the Mexican child," and to carefully monitor and control forms of unwanted difference, including disability and racialized characteristics. Differences were not generally marked for eradication—as would be the case in eugenics movements in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe—but instead represented possible influences from a historically distant or immediate reproductive past, or served as warnings of potential danger haunting individual or collective futures. Weaving between the historical context of Mexico's post-revolutionary period and our present-day world, Embodied Archive approaches literary and archival documents that include anti-alcohol and hygiene campaigns; projects in school architecture and psychopedagogy; biotypological studies of urban schoolchildren and indigenous populations; and literary approaches to futuristic utopias or violent pasts. It focuses in particular on the way disability is represented indirectly through factors that may have caused it in the past or may cause it in the future, or through perceptions and measurements that cannot fully capture it. In engaging with these narratives, the book proposes an archival encounter, a witnessing of past injustices and their implications for the disability of our present and future.
Ephemeral Material by
Publication Date: 2012-05-01
Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive articulates a queer approach to archival studies and archival practice, and establishes the relevance of this approach beyond collections with LGBTQ content. Kumbier argues that queering the archive (thinking through queer interests, experiences, explanatory frameworks, and cultural practices) allows us to think critically about established archival principles and practices. This project describes—and supports—the work of archivists, community documentarians, activists, and scholars seeking to preserve materials documenting queer lives and experiences, and imagines how we might respond to the particular demands of archiving queer lives. Further, this project intervenes in the repetition of practices that may exclude LGBTQ constituencies, render our experiences less-visible/less-legible, or perpetuate oppressive power relations between archivists and users or documented subjects. The project aims to make work by scholars in history, performance studies, queer studies, and other areas of the humanities who are encountering the limits of archives—and are developing strategies for working with them—legible and relevant to archivists and librarians. The book supports its conceptual work with concrete examples of collecting and documentation projects, a research ethnography, and analyses of popular media that represent—and critique—archival spaces and practices.
New Digital Worlds by
Publication Date: 2018-11-15
The emergence of digital humanities has been heralded for its commitment to openness, access, and the democratizing of knowledge, but it raises a number of questions about omissions with respect to race, gender, sexuality, disability, and nation. Postcolonial digital humanities is one approach to uncovering and remedying inequalities in digital knowledge production, which is implicated in an information-age politics of knowledge. New Digital Worlds traces the formation of postcolonial studies and digital humanities as fields, identifying how they can intervene in knowledge production in the digital age. Roopika Risam examines the role of colonial violence in the development of digital archives and the possibilities of postcolonial digital archives for resisting this violence. Offering a reading of the colonialist dimensions of global organizations for digital humanities research, she explores efforts to decenter these institutions by emphasizing the local practices that subtend global formations and pedagogical approaches that support this decentering. Last, Risam attends to human futures in new digital worlds, evaluating both how algorithms and natural language processing software used in digital humanities projects produce universalist notions of the "human" and also how to resist this phenomenon.