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Omnibus Edition - 2/2

Disability: A New History Episode 12 of 12

Across the country, historians are discovering the voices of disabled people from the past. In this two week series, Peter White draws on the latest research to reveal first-hand accounts of what it was like to live with physical disability in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The result is moving, revealing, and sometimes very funny:
"Sirs, I am a dwarf. I have lost my job at the circus and what is a dwarf to do in such a situation? In this Godforsaken place the snow comes so deep that a self-respecting dwarf can't even walk along the street without drowning!"

This document is from a huge archive of letters from disabled people in the 19th century, applying to the local authorities for money. Sources like this are only now being discovered and interpreted by historians across the country - it amounts to a new historical movement.

For Peter, as a blind man, the series is revelatory. He says, "I'm used to people describing me as "disabled". Fair enough, I can't see. But I do wonder sometimes whether putting me into a disabled category really makes much sense. Some of my best friends use wheelchairs, but the truth is our needs could hardly be more different. I fall over them, they run over me! But over the last 40 years, disabled people have needed a collective identity to make change possible, to break down discrimination in jobs, transport, in people's attitudes generally.

People have tended to think that this sense of collective identity in Britain began after the First World War, when so many men returned with very visible injuries. But the evidence I've uncovered making this series reveals it to have begun much earlier."

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
Academic adviser: David Turner, Swansea University
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Release date:

58 minutes

Last on

Fri 7 Jun 2013 21:00