Why Study Disability History?

Although the study of disability history and culture as a separate discipline is fairly new in academia, disability has always been with us and is interwoven throughout the history of every community and culture.

Studying how people with disabilities have been treated over time and in different cultures, and how disabled people have navigated and interacted with the world, is important for studying other aspects of history. For example, discrimination against other groups such as women, African Americans, immigrants, LGBTI+ has been justified by medicalizing them and assigning them “disabling” labels.

It is important to study disability civil rights and its intersection with other civil rights movements as well as the historical sexism and racism within disability rights movements that is currently being addressed by disability justice activists. The contributions of disabled women, people of color, and LGBTI+ people to civil rights, art, culture and technology need to be documented and presented to the world.

Disability history is woven throughout the history of institutions, medicine, eugenics, technology, war and pandemics. It is an integral part of society’s changing views of humanity and inclusion. Physical and digital accessibility advocated by disabled people are now important assets to everyone’s lives.


Baynton, D. (2001). Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History. In P.K. Longmore & L. Umansky (eds.), The new disability history. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Emerging America. Model Lessons on Disability History. (website)

Longmore, Paul & Umansky, Lauri (Eds). The New Disability History: American Perspectives. New York University Press. 2001

O’Toole, Corbett. Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History. 2019

Secmezsoy-Urquhart, Jessica. Why I do Disability History: A Disabled Historian’s Perspective. July 6, 2020