There is only one museum in the country dedicated to the history of people with disabilities. Located in Buffalo, New York, the Museum of DisABILITY History offers a variety of permanent, temporary, and traveling exhibits, from “The Evolution of Adaptive Equipment” to “Self Advocacy: A History of People Speaking Up for Themselves.” After visiting the museum’s website, I was eager to learn more. The museum’s curator, Doug Platt, was gracious enough to answer some of my questions.
“We are the only ‘Bricks and Mortar’ museum dedicated to disabilities,” Mr. Platt told me. While other museums have some content in this area, their primary emphases are elsewhere. “Our focus on disabilities is what sets us apart from other museums,” he said.
Planning for the Museum of DisABILITY history began twenty years ago. Personally, I was surprised that an American museum had not been dedicated to disability sooner. Mr. Platt reported that the museum’s founder and president, Dr. James Boles, was also “surprised to find that there were no comprehensive collections of materials dedicated to disability history that his students could use for research and educational purposes.” Boles’ discovery of this unfilled need inspired the museum’s conception.
“Today the Museum Library contains 1997 Books/Publications; the archive holds 4936 paper based documents; there are 617 photographs, and 435 objects in our collection,” Mr. Platt said. The museum also houses a gift shop and a variety of programming, including an annual Disabilities Film Festival and Speaker Series. For individuals who cannot travel to Buffalo for a visit, Mr. Platt suggests the online Virtual Museum, which makes the Museum of DisABILITY History accessible in a digital format. “We need to make the information and materials we hold available in a variety of formats to be able to reach, and be accessible to, a wide ranging audience,” he said. The Virtual Museum can be visited at http://museumofdisability.org/