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Online Exhibit: A Wheelchair History of Disability in Canada

We are so fortunate that people reach out to us sharing other projects focused on disability history. Check out this online exhibit from Canada about the history of the wheelchair.

From their main page:

The Wheelchair is:—

An engineered, manufactured and commercial object;

A therapeutic and assistive technology object;

A symbolic object.

It is also an artifact in museum collections which can tell a story. If we look through the wheel of a wheelchair, we can see places where physical impairments were visible and where they were invisible. We can see the medical profession’s expectations for the injured and infirm. We can see rehabilitation experts defining goals for the bodies of those who could not walk. We can see engineers, tinkerers, and the women who cared for the sick re-designing the wheelchair to meet changing needs.

Look far enough and we can see the people who used a chair, what the wheelchair cost them and what they gained.

Carleton University, with its partner museums, presents how Canada and the wheelchair changed each other.

Explore our wheelchair collection. What do you see?

From their About Us page:

The project began with Dr. Adrian Chan of the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University and is funded by a Carleton University Research Achievement Award. Dr. Chan proposed a collaborative project with Dr. Roy Hanes of Carleton’s School of Social Work.

Chan brings to the partnership expertise centred on biomedical engineering technology which points towards the medical model of disability. Hanes brings the viewpoint of the therapist and social worker which emphasizes the social model of disability. The ultimate goal was that over two years of collaboration, they would find new directions for interdisciplinary research.

Dr. Dominique Marshall of the Department of History joined the project as part of planning a new study program at Carleton University on the history of disability. Marshall brings her expertise in the history of social welfare, families, and humanitarian aid to the work. Dorothy J. Smith, a doctoral candidate in Carleton’s Department of History, joined the team as researcher.

The team decided to concentrate historical research on one assistive technology, the wheelchair, around which it would build a virtual exhibit. The wheelchair, as it is found as a museum artifact, would tell the story of the interaction between social attitudes, behaviors, and assistive technology.

The choice of the wheelchair brought into the project, Dr. David Pantalony, Curator of Physical Sciences and Medicine at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. While he is a specialist in the history of scientific instruments, his interest is in material history and the stories which can be told through the life histories of artifacts.

In this exhibit, we follow the social model of disability first developed by Michael Oliver of the United Kingdom. We, therefore, view the person in the wheelchair as having  an impairment. It is society and the environment in which the person moves which creates a disability. Where other terms are used for persons with impairments, we are using the terms of the period.


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