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Rethinking Disability Representation: absence and attitude

Jocelyn Dodd, University of Leicester
Co-author(s): Richard Sandell, Debbie Jolly, Ceri Jones


Issues of disability, disabled peoples' experiences and disabled peoples' representation have been largely overlooked within the public spaces of the museum and gallery. In some ways disabled peoples' absence in these cultural and historical arenas can be seen as a reflection of the denial of full social citizenship rights more broadly.

Rethinking Disability Representation was a two year project that involved nine museums and galleries in England and in Scotland. It was developed and run by The Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester. The project looked at the theme of disability representation in museums and galleries, and the broader issue of attitudes towards disabled peoples' citizenship and inclusion. The project was underpinned by the philosophy and values of social model.

Rethinking Disability Representation set out to rethink and tackle the absence of disability representation, whilst developing politically aware approaches for both museum staff and audiences. The project engaged with disabled people within each of the museum communities, as well as disabled professionals and a Think Tank of disabled activists and artists to develop a collaborative working model to challenge both absence and attitudes regarding disability.

The paper will present some of the outcomes from the 9 interpretive projects, exhibitions, displays and educational programmes, and an analysis of the responses of visitors to these museum projects. The paper provides key insights into the different ways that audiences engage with issues of disability and a contemporary overview of attitudes towards disability and disabled people's citizenship.

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