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Forum at U Paints the History of Disability

March 10 – Did you know that during the Middle Ages, people with leprosy were required to ring a bell when traveling through a town, alerting others to their presence; or that under Nazi Germany an estimated 200,000 persons with disabilities were exterminated? It was the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired activists to take control of disability issues; and eighty percent of people will experience disability at some time in their lives.

The history of disability will be illuminated at the University of Utah‘s third annual Disability Forum, to take place March 18 from 1 to 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Library Gould Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at

During the week of March 15-19, the U will host a traveling exhibit on the history of disability. The exhibit portrays this history of disability from 3500 B.C. to the present in 21 panels of images and narrative. The exhibit will be displayed in two locations on campus: March 15-16 in the Union first floor Crimson Commons hallway and March 17-19 in the Marriott Library near the West Entrance.

“The disability history exhibit will provide a context for understanding the breadth and significance of this topic,” says Cathy Chambless, forum organizer. “We are also excited to host two nationally prominent scholars in disability studies.”

The forum will feature lectures from Catherine Kudlick, professor of history at the University of California, Davis and Paul K. Longmore, professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University.

At 1 p.m., Kudlick (live) and Longmore (via teleconferencing) will co-present the seminar “Disability History: Why We Need Another ‘Other.'” Approaching disability as a social category rather than an individual characteristic, Kudlick and Longmore will make the case that an understanding of disability history is crucial to comprehend how Western cultures establish hierarchy and maintain social order.

A poster session displaying student and faculty research and service projects will follow Kudlick and Davis’ talk. Poster session attendees will be served refreshments and have an opportunity to meet the visiting scholar.

Kudlick will present the lecture “Blind People March for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” at 5:30 p.m. Using her experiences as a participant-observer at a six-month full-time residential rehabilitation program, Kudlick explores where blindness and race intersect. The training required students to spend all day blindfolded in classes where they learned such things as cane travel, Braille, living skills, as well as confidence-builders such as going downhill skiing and participating in bizarre treasure hunts to the far-reaches of Denver.

“As I traveled through Denver with my cane alone and in groups, I learned how traditional racial hierarchies broke down when my visible disability trumped my place as a privileged white woman, creating moments of solidarity both with my fellow students and with people on the street,” she says. “The problem wasn’t lack of eyesight but rather mainstream society’s social prejudices and misconceptions.”

Kudlick specializes in disability history, gender and history of medicine in Western Europe. She is the author of two books: Cholera in Post-Revolutionary Paris: A Cultural History; and Reflections: the Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France. Her current research uses the analytic tools of Critical Disability Studies to explore the history of smallpox in 18th and 19th-century France from the perspective of survivors. Her essay “A Disability History: Why We Need Another ‘Other’” was published in 2003 in the American Historical Review.

Longmore specializes in early American history and the history of people with disabilities. In the mid-1980s he called for historians to examine the history of disability. A 2004 review of his book Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability declared, “Probably more than anyone, Longmore has been responsible for bringing disability studies to the field of history.” He earned his Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate School and his bachelor’s and master’s at Occidental College. His book The Invention of George Washington has been described as one of the best accounts of Washington’s early career.”

For more information, visit To arrange a media interview with the speakers, contact Cathy Chambless at 801-585-0371 or