Rhetoric, Rights, and Resistance: Disability Advocacy in 19th- and 20th-Century North America

AHA Session 329
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
John M. Kinder, Oklahoma State University
Lindsey Patterson, Elmhurst College

Session Abstract

This panel examines disability policy and advocacy across place and time, on the local level and the national scene.  In bringing together case studies from late-nineteenth-century Canada to the mid-century United States, and late-twentieth-century New York State, the panel offers a broad view of the way in which disability advocates have historically framed their arguments for rights and supports as well as the role that specific localities, time periods, and cultural contexts played in shaping advocates’ rhetoric and priorities and in the reception of their demands. Joanna Pearce argues that Canadian geography meant that nineteenth-century blind advocates’ demands focused on literacy initiatives, including Home Teaching Societies, free postage for the shipping of books, and an extensive lending library. These priorities stood in contrast to demands made by advocates in the United States for job training programs and created a distinct blind self-advocacy network in Canada. Celeste Sharpe’s analysis of changes in visual representation and rhetoric in public health education and fundraising efforts by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association reflects on the influence of the postwar rise of conservative politics and discourse in the United States on these charities’ media campaigns. She argues that these organizations pursued tactics that carefully negotiated contemporary ideological divides over issues such as family values and women’s rights. These charities incorporated universal themes like patriotism, respectability, and hard work with increasing racial diversity in their campaigns to promote the integration of people with disabilities into mainstream communities. Finally, Kathryn Lawton argues that the late-twentieth-century movement to establish neighborhood group homes for people with developmental disabilities in New York State encountered widespread resistance from homeowners whose rhetoric reflected the discourse of the so-called silent majority. Opponents rejected group homes as an unwelcome state intrusion in their lives and a violation of their own rights in favor of the right of people with disabilities to live in mainstream communities. Together, these papers probe the dialectical relationship between claims for rights and services and the political and cultural realities of the historical moment.
See more of: AHA Sessions