Disability History Association 1
In keeping with the AHA’s theme of Communities and Networks, our panel proposes a session on “Disability, the Family and the Domestic Sphere.” The panel is meant not only to contribute to a broad vision of the AHA theme but also to fill a gap in the number of panels on disability history at the AHA in years past.
Although the field of disability history is fast growing, the category of disability has certainly been studied in the modern American public sphere, with research ranging from the history of the disability rights movement and civil rights (Fleischer and Zames, 2001), the institutionalization and deinstitutionalization of cognitively disabled individuals (Trent/Noll, 2004), and the place of disability in immigration policy (Baynton in Longmore and Umansky, 2001). Fewer studies have focused on the history of disability as it pertains to the contours of family affairs and to the construction of “home.” Like the political community of people with disabilities, the more intimate, but no less political, network of relationships between individuals with disabilities and non-disabled individuals within—or influencing—the domestic sphere has equally shaped the lives of people with disabilities in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Both the cultural attitudes about disability that Hewitt and Vogt raise in their papers and the actual policies and practices regarding disabled individuals that Williamson and Sufian explore in their presentations constitute important dynamics that reveal the shifting boundaries between the domestic and public spheres.
These “domestic” histories contribute to the AHA’s look at how communities and networks are built, who composes them, and where the people who inhabit them are located. Domestic relationships and activities within the home and its ramifications for outside of the home move the traditional focus on disability as medical impairment to one seen as integral to social relationships and connections. In this way, the idea of networks and communities itself gets transformed into a diverse amalgam of people and experiences.