Celebrating disability history


This month (November 22 to December 22) is UK Disability History Month and the Oral History Society would like to raise awareness of the many rich collections and projects recording the life stories of disabled people.

Some examples are given below, but we are aware that this is only a tiny proportion of the work going on. Please send details of your work to include on the member projects section of our website. To submit your project click here.

We will also be featuring extracts of interviews with disabled people on our Facebook page throughout the month and would be delighted to include any sound clips. We will, of course, link these back to your own website. If you have ideas for how the OHS can do more to support projects focusing on disability history then email Sarah Lowry: sarah@hearinghistory.com

Hidden Now Heard is a three-year project run by Mencap Cymru, recording the memories of residents and staff of six long stay hospitals in Wales, the last of which closed in 2006. The exhibition will tour to six museums, and there will be a permanent display of the project’s research at The National Museum of Wales. To read more about the project and some of the issues the leaders are grappling with click here.

The Disability Voices Collection at the British Library is a collection of recordings including, Speaking for Ourselves, an oral history of people with cerebral palsy, Unheard Voices, interviews with deafened people, and interviews with Paralympians, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Danny Crates.

Share – The Deaf Visual Archive developed by the British Deaf Association, features hundreds of fascinating short films showing a range of activities activities organised by the deaf community. A recently created feature length documentary, Power in Our Hands, drawing on both archive footage and new interviews, will be touring the UK in 2016.

One Door Closes Another Door Opens is a publication by Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop about the life of Tom Atkins, who contracted polio at three and spent the next seven years isolated from his family.

The Open University’s Social History of Learning Disability Research Group researches and disseminates learning disability history. Its website includes information on their fascinating projects, many of which include the recording of oral histories. It also lists books and articles published by group members, recent news, and details of upcoming conferences.

How was School? is an Alliance for Inclusive Education project, designed and delivered by disabled people, that highlights disabled people’s experiences of education over the past 100 years. The project’s website includes multiple extracts from interviews, a school pack and worksheets. The full interviews can be accessed at the British Library.

100 Years, 100 Voices celebrates the centenary in 2015 of the charity Blind Veterans in the UK. The website includes readings of historical material as well as extracts from new recordings.

This guide is for people who record oral history interviews, and organisations and individuals who keep collections of oral history recordings in the four nations of the United Kingdom. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland comprise the UK and amongst them have three legal systems. However so far as the law is referred to in this document it is safe to assume that all come within the wider context of UK and European law. The Oral History Society promotes the use of oral history techniques to record the memories of those whose life stories would otherwise be lost to future generations, and encourages researchers and teachers to make use of oral history in their work.

It is essential that interviewees should have confidence and trust in interviewers, and that recordings should be available for research and other use within a legal and ethical framework which protects the interests of interviewees. The following information and guidelines are aimed at ensuring that these objectives are achieved.

Anyone involved with the creation and preservation of oral history interviews should take steps to safeguard their reputation for trustworthiness. This means ensuring that what they do is within the various UK and European laws that apply to oral history and that they have not been acting illegally. Oral historians generally speaking have a good reputation in this respect. This guidance is therefore offered as reassurance and advice to both interviewers and interviewees.

The Oral History Society believes that, while oral history work must comply with the law, legal requirements alone do not provide an adequate framework for good practice. No UK law was designed specifically to regulate oral history work; in fact no law even mentions it. Beyond legal considerations we have long held the view that oral historians should abide by a voluntary set of ethical guidelines.

For these reasons this guide covers responsibilities and obligations beyond legal requirements. Members of the Oral History Society, including those who are custodians, archivists and librarians, have agreed to abide by these guidelines.

The guidance reflects the workflow of a typical oral history interview. Much of the legal and technical detail is available not within the main guidance text but via hypertext links so that the key steps and terms can be understood and followed. There are also links to sample documents and resources.