Visible? Project to shine historical light on lives of the disabled

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Image: A protest in the 1980s over transport access for people with disabilities

Photographs and video footage capturing, or commenting on, the experiences of disabled people in Northern Ireland are being sought by a new community history project.

Set to become a landmark initiative, the Visible? Project is working to piece together the story over time of the key factors that have shaped disabled people’s lives here.

Among the central aims of the initiative are to examine what has and what hasn’t changed, and to explore the forces that have influenced the nature and extent of that change. It is rooted in a desire to both chronicle the past and, based on analysis of emergent historical lessons, contribute ideas for future positive developments.

With the objective of creating an online resource, scheduled to go live this December, the Visible? Project will also generate a documentary film, a public exhibition and a number of publications. Consequently, the coming months will see various forms of research undertaken designed to produce text, audio and images that combine to imaginatively convey the changing face of disability in Northern Ireland.

One aspect of the project’s research will focus on a set of video and audio interviews designed to present the reflections of a spectrum of people who have actively sought to foster positive change for some or all of the period from the 1981 UN International Year of Disabled People through to the present day.

If you would like to participate in such an interview, whether as a disabled person or ally of people with disabilities, the project will be delighted to hear from you (contact details below).

Additionally, the Visible? Project will be sifting material in the Public Records Office and other archives to unearth documents and graphics which illuminate the nature of the circumstances of, and opportunities available to, disabled people dating back to 1801.

Although this starting point is a 120 years prior to partition, numerous developments during the 19th and early 2oth centuries, across the then single jurisdictional island of Ireland, influenced the experience of disabled people throughout the history of what is now Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921, and continue to produce contemporary echoes.

A fundamental core of the project will be efforts to identify the dynamics that have influenced this society’s attitudes to disability and how changes over time to these are manifested in the various forms of responses made to people with physical; sensory; mental health; learning and hidden disabilities.

In addition to narrating the interwoven strands of the largely untold, and frequently shocking, story of what molded the lived experiences of citizens with disabilities here, the Visible? Project hopes to act as a springboard for the creation of a spectrum of follow-up focused actions designed to constructively challenge and change the negative attitudes towards disabled people that currently manifest themselves in a plethora of subtle and not so subtle ways.

• To get in touch with the Visible? Project contact Harry Reid AT Purple Balloon Content Creation’s office on ++44 (0)7717 582208 or via email at harryreid53@gmail.com

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