By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist
December 3 was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as proclaimed by the United Nations. Observed since 1992, this day “aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.” The theme of this day for 2017 is “Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all.”
The State Archives recently uncovered a piece of disability history from 1970 in its holdings among open reel audiotape recordings created by the state legislature. The tapes are of three public hearings held by the Texas Legislative Council Study Committee on Programs for the Handicapped, which conducted a comprehensive study of services and rehabilitative programs for Texans with disabilities, with a focus on vocational needs. These recordings are just a small portion of the archival records we hold that document state agencies and programs that have served those with disabilities since the early 20th century.
The story of these recordings was featured earlier this year in the Disability Archives/History Consortium newsletter in two parts (part 1 and part 2) and they are available for listening in TSLAC’s Texas Digital Archive, with a companion finding aid on Texas Archival Resources Online. Among the experts testifying was Dr. William Spencer, founder of the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), Texas Medical Center, and a nationally recognized pioneer in rehabilitation, often referred to as the “Father of Modern Rehabilitation.” Senator Barbara Jordan served as the committee’s citizens advisory commission chair and Senator Criss Cole, blinded during World War II, served as a director of the study committee.
The topics discussed are those that continue to be of concern for persons with disabilities today, including structural barriers in and around buildings, educating the public about disabilities, vocational training and opportunities, rehabilitation programs, hospital services, and health care insurance coverage.
In the words of the UN Secretary-General’s message, “On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us remove physical and cultural barriers, build resilient societies, and create opportunities that truly leave no one behind.”