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UT Arlington Libraries Digitize Disability History

Author: University of Texas at Arlington : Contact:

Published: 2015-09-12

Synopsis and Key Points:

UTA Libraries will develop the Texas Disability History Collection website with accessibility as the top priority.

Main Digest

UT Arlington Libraries become first in Texas to digitize disability history.

Disability studies first emerged in the 1980s. Today, disability studies is defined as an academic discipline that examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of disability, as a social construct. Disability studies courses include work in disability history, theory, legislation, policy, ethics and the arts. However, students are taught to focus is the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities. In practical terms. the field is focused on increasing individuals with disabilities access to civil rights and improving their quality of life.

In the early 1970s, University of Texas at Arlington students who used wheelchairs had their choice of majors: history or accounting. Those two degrees were the only ones whose classes were held in wheelchair-accessible buildings.

Since then, the University has steadily improved access and opportunities for students with disabilities and become a model campus for adaptive sports.

UT Arlington Libraries are set to continue this legacy with a $25,000 Tex-Treasures grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to digitize and publish disability history relating to UTA and Texas.

The digitized items will become part of the Libraries' Texas Disability History Collection and made available through a website set to launch in late spring.

The disability history collection, the only such collection in Texas or the Southwest, includes 40 oral history interviews with prominent disability rights advocates and Texans with disabilities, and hundreds of UTA Libraries Special Collections holdings such as personal papers, organizational records, photographs, and audio and video recordings. Additions to the disability history collection are ongoing.

"We are delighted that the TexTreasures grant allows UTA Libraries to digitize and create access to a unique and extraordinary collection showing the evolution of disability rights in Texas," said Rebecca Bichel, dean of UT Arlington Libraries. "UT Arlington has long been a leader in disability access and adaptive sports, and continues to blaze new trails with the recent establishment of a minor in disability studies."

Libraries staff members are also discovering pieces from other collections that can augment the Texas Disability History Collection.

"There are more stories out there than we realize," said Brenda McClurkin, head of Special Collections. "We are looking at our existing collections with new eyes."

One such find was Betty Andujar in the Libraries' Texas Political History Collection. Andujar, a Tarrant County state senator from 1973-1982, worked with the Texas Commission for the Blind and kept records of her involvement. In the Texas Labor Archives, staff found 1950s-era correspondence between the Fort Worth Trades Assembly and the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped. Photographs from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection reveal moments such as a woman receiving a Braille Bible in 1938 and Jim Hayes, founder and long-time coach of UTA's Movin' Mavs wheelchair basketball team, training for a charity event in 1986.

UTA Libraries will develop the Texas Disability History Collection website with accessibility as the top priority.

Text-based documents will be converted with optical character recognition software so that they are viable for people using screen readers.

Video and audio files will be described through alternate means for people with hearing or vision impairments.

Sarah Rose, a UT Arlington associate professor of history and director of the Minor in Disability Studies program, noted the significance of making such history available through the digitization project.

"Disability history is a different kind of history that is hidden, but exciting to find," said Rose, who predicts the materials will appeal to students, researchers, activists, and non-profit organizations.

"Twenty percent of the population has a disability. It's the largest minority in the world and the only one anyone can join at any time."

For more information about the project, contact Special Collections at or 817-272-3393.

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