Disability comes in many different forms. It may be physical such as blindness or deafness or the loss of a limb, it may be due to a condition such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida or Down's Syndrome or a disease such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. Or the disability may affect the mind either with mental handicap or with mental illness such as depression or dementia. Sadly, physical and mental disabilities are often interlinked.
Disabled people can, all too often, be invisible to us, So too can disability in the archival record. When disabled people are mentioned it is, all too often, in the cold, official records of their treatment rather than capturing the essence of the person themselves. Inevitably disability of the mind leaves behind more records than disability of the body because of institutions such as The Three Counties Asylum at Stotfold and BromhamHospital which were established specifically to treat those suffering from the conditions which caused it.
We tend to think that disabled people were discriminated in the past, looked down on and ignored and that things are better today. But do the historical records which survive support that view? And are we really all that enlightened today?
In some ways the second question is harder to answer. This on-line exhibition of documents relating to disability can, hopefully, begin to address the first question. We hope to add documents to the exhibition as we find them over the coming years and that the exhibition might be useful to all of us, disabled or not, in trying to understand the relationship between disability and society now and in the past. We also hope that it might preserve the memory of disabled people who have gone before us.