For the first time, an exhibit on the landmark 504 sit in that took place in 1997, “Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights,” in will be shown July 26-December 18, 2015 at the Ed Roberts Campus, above Ashby BART at 3075 Adeline in Berkeley. Kiosks positioned in the lobby and rotunda of the Ed Roberts Campus tell the story of how more than 100 people with disabilities occupied 50 UN Plaza in San Francisco for nearly a month in April 1977 to demand that a precursor to the ADA be signed. Supported by groups such as the Black Panthers, Delancey Street, Glide Memorial Church, and several well-known politicians, the protesters emerged victorious after a 26-day occupation. Visitors can learn about what it took to survive inside through photos, letters, and and by watching eleven video stories woven together from interviews that San Francisco State students from Journalism and History classes conducted with surviving participants of the occupation. Interactive features invite people to tell the world what makes them Patient No More.
The Disability Visibility Project interviewed Cathy Kudlick and Fran Osborne of the Longmore Institute on Disability, San Francisco State University about this exhibit.
Are there any particular discoveries or findings that you are excited about? What are some things that people will be seeing and experiencing for the first time from this exhibit?
CJK: I’m especially excited about the oral history interviews with 504 participants, supporters, disability activists influenced by what happened back in 1977. SFSU students in Journalism and History classes conducted around 40 interviews, many of them with people who never had a chance to tell their stories before. These were great stories and the people were so honest and open and clearly what they did 37 years before still influences them today. It’s incredible.
FO: I echo Cathy’s enthusiasm for the interviews – they are fantastic – and we will include them on the project website too. Another favorite for me is a black and white film we found at the GLBT Historical Society called ‘Sign 504 Now’ which was made by Dan Smith. Though we have been trying to reach him for over a year, we finally made contact last week and are excited to find out more about how and why he made this unique film from inside the protest.
There’s been a lot of effort at making the Patient No More exhibit interactive and accessible—tell me about some of the unique features to this exhibit that other museums can learn from.
FO: I’m still grappling with access and it’s often like adding another dimension but I think that’s because museums and exhibitions have habitual approaches that are rarely shaken. Maybe access is like a muscle that has to be used to make it supple and fluid and integrated. The best way to learn about access is to do it. Theoretical exercises don’t work well because while access can be very simple and low-tech, it is very easy to get it wrong. There’s a phrase that designers use all the time which points to how every tiny element has to be considered and thought through. ‘The devil is in the detail’ is a phrase that reminds us all to make sure details have been discussed and considered. I’m excited by some of the access features as well as hoping that we’ve covered as many of our bases as we can. We have a large photographic element that provides a backdrop for one area of the space (not wanting to reveal too much). In order to provide an equivalent experience, the Longmore Institute has commissioned two poets to write a new work each that will capture the essence of the visual drama and power of this element. I think this poetry was Emily’s idea and what a great way of demonstrating a new conversation about access as well as providing a wonderful experience for all visitors. Again, I don’t want to give too much away but there are two main inter-actives that encourage visitors to express their views and make a personal connection to Section 504.
Tell me about some of the “must see” and “must experience” highlights from the exhibit that visitors should know about?
CJK: We have an interactive portion of the exhibit where people can tell what makes them “Patient No More.” There’s a real bullhorn that one of the professors in design, Silvan Linn, has rigged up so that the comments will be recorded, then approved for posting on line – we’re hoping people will get a sense of being an activist, part of something bigger that stretches back to 1977. For people who would rather communicate through writing, we’ll have a whiteboard and a marker – people’s notes will be photographed, uploaded, approved, then made available online. We experimented with the whiteboard part last July at the Disability Pride march and festival organized by the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center in 2014, and it attracted a lot of attention and actually got people talking with us and among ourselves.
FO: I think the whole thing is a ‘must see’ ‘must do’
What would you like visitors to come away with after learning about disability history from the Patient No More exhibit?
CJK: If we can get people with and without disabilities to understand that disability is a central part of US history for everyone, I will be a very happy camper. I’ll be even happier if this brings pride and curiosity that motivates people to converse and continue to fight prejudice and stigma against people with disabilities.
FO: Sometimes it’s the intangibles that stay. I like the idea of expanding everyone’s views and opinions, challenging their knowledge about the way things are and the way things have been in the past. We want everyone to experience the power of first-hand accounts of recent events, how important personal histories are, but also how they can differ and still be true. Perhaps visitors will come away with a new sense of how important it can be to preserve things that seem transient and ephemeral. Future generations may well be interested in that box of nostalgia, of treasured photos and leaflets, buttons and bus tickets, programs and video snippets.
What are the plans for the Patient No More exhibit after it opens at the Ed Roberts Campus on July 26, 2015?
FO: There is a traveling version of the exhibition, which will make its rounds of the Bay Area at the same time. It’s a ‘light’ version of the show with a single video presentation and less content, though geared to short visits. Each location will have a reception or related event and those details will be fleshed out nearer the time. I’ve included the schedule for its journey below. As for the main exhibit we hope that it has a life beyond its time at the ERC and there is always the 40th anniversary to think about in April 2017.
Mayor’s Office on Disability/City Hall: July 1st (11.30-1.30pm)
San Francisco State University: Monday Aug 21 – Thursday Sept 4 (reception August 21)
Cal State East Bay Hayward: Tuesday Sept 15 – Tuesday Oct 13
San Mateo County Office of Education: Thursday October 15 – Friday October 30
Silicon Valley Independent Living Center: Wednesday Nov 4 – Thursday Nov 12
Superfest: Contemporary Jewish Museum: Saturday November 14th
Notre Dame High School, San José – Sunday November 15 – Sunday November 29
Marin County Office of Education: Tuesday December 1 – Tuesday December 15
What are some other major milestones/events in disability history that people should know more about but don’t?
CJK: There are many, but the history is still so new that people focus on a few key events mostly centered around the 1960s and 1970s. But the history goes back much further, and I think we miss a lot by assuming that a positive disability history started only in the US in the mid-twentieth century. I also think we need to learn much more about the ways that disability history intersects with poverty, public policy, race relations, and newer views of institutions as complex sites where people with disabilities came together. Again, this history is very new, so much more to discover. A good starting point is Kim Nielsen’s A Disability History of the United States which is relatively short and readable for a general audience; no one who reads it will think of US history the same way ever again. And of course there’s a whole bigger world out there where disability history from different times and places has much to teach us.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Patient No More exhibit or disability history in general?
CJK: Our cool title, for which I credit our assistant director Emily Beitiks. People should understand the double meaning: a) people with disabilities have fought to be understood as Americans living rich, diverse lives outside of medical contexts, not just as pathetic individuals passively waiting for a cure, and b) people with disabilities were sick and tired of waiting for the US government to sign a civil rights law that would make discrimination against them illegal. It was frustrating that an exhibit like this doesn’t have room to go into nuances for this, but hopefully some people will come to this on their own.
I also want to stress that while “Patient No More” was mostly the work of a tight-knit team of three (myself, Fran Osborne, and Emily Beitiks), it was a wonderful collaborative effort that brought together students and faculty from SF State as well as amazing members of the Bay Area’s many vibrant overlapping disability communities. One thing I will say: after working so hard on this exhibit, I’ll never attend another one without deep appreciation for all that goes into even (and maybe especially) the ones that seem simple yet leave you with something to think about.
FO: Ditto – we have started to list all the people who helped and contributed and it’s a very long list.
For more information on Patient No More, open July 26, 2015, Berkeley, CA:
Catherine J. Kudlick – Director
After more than two decades at the University of California at Davis, Catherine Kudlick was delighted to join San Francisco State as Professor of History in Fall 2012 to assume directorship of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability.
Fran Osborne – Curator and Graphic Designer
Fran Osborne has a BA (Hons) in Typography & Graphic Communication from Reading University in England and an MA in Museum Studies from SF State University. She has a special interest in bi or multilingual interpretation in museums and other cultural facilities and has international experience in Arabic speaking countries. Based in California, she is currently volunteering at SFMoMA and SFOpera. Recently, she was the curator of DIS/PLAY: A Disability Take-Over Show By Artists With, and Without, an exhibit featured at SOMArts in San Francisco.