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Disability Studies Resources Guide: Resources for Primary Sources in Disability Studies

Guides to searching for information related to Disability Studies, including special collections, videos, statistics, journals, databases, and more.

What you will find on this page

This page highlights a few of the many resources available for finding primary sources related to the field of disability studies. The primary resources are organized into three sections: sources of archival content, resources containing both archival and contemporary content, and sources of contemporary content. Two additional sections are included for further research with non-primary resources and using the internet to find sources.

Resources for Primary Sources in Disability Studies

Sources for Archival Content

Archival resources include historical texts, images, and artifacts. When searching online content of archival materials it may be expedient to use terms that are contemporary within the time period that you are searching. Examples include asylum, retarded, crippled, or handicapped. Even though we find this language offensive, it may have been used in the writings of the time.

Accessibility note: Syracuse University users with certified print disabilities can request text-enabled PDFs of HathiTrust volumes. These are requested on a title-by-title basis, and any item in HathiTrust is eligible, regardless of copyright status. See the HathiTrust Accessibility page for more information.

Resources That Include Both Archival and Contemporary Content

  • Disability History Museum Library
    The Disability History Museum Library has a growing collection of over 3,000 primary source documents and visual stills related to the cultural and social history of people with disabilities, covering the 1800s to the present. Browse the collection or search with keywords.
  • Disability in the Modern World: History of a Social Movement
    (Access is restricted to SU students, faculty, and staff.)
    This database provides a visual and textual history of disability in the culture. Disability in the Modern World includes video and pages of primary sources, including letters, documents, news stories, government and institutional documents, oral histories, interviews, documentaries and related archival materials. Video transcripts are included.
  • National Archives – Americans with Disabilities Act
    The National Archives holds many records related to American citizens with disabilities, including 20th century letters, documents, legislation, and photographs about programs and rights for people with disabilities.
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times
    (Access is restricted to SU students, faculty, and staff.)
    This historical coverage of the New York Times includes searchable articles from 1851 through 2006. Consider using terms that are contemporary within the time period that you are searching.

Sources for Contemporary Content

Oral Histories

  • It’s Our Story: Answers from America’s Disability Activists
    It’s Our Story is a national initiative to make disability history known and accessible. The highlight of this site is the It’s Our Story video interview collection. The 1,300 closed captioned videos are interviews with disability leaders across the country who talk about social issues including, accessible housing, culture and the arts, among others.
  • Rooted in Rights
    Rooted in Rights includes podcast interviews with transcripts and closed captioned videos, focusing on disability rights issues.
  • Disability Voices
    Disability Voices (from the British Library) is a collection of about 600 oral history interviews with persons having a disability. Transcripts are included with the audio files.  The collection may be browsed by subject or name.

Law and Government Publications

  • Congress.gov
    Congress.gov contains the Congressional Record and full text legislation from 1993 (104th Congress) to the present.
  • Disability Law Research Guides and Resources
    (Syracuse University College of Law)
    This page lists guides for finding resources on law and policy in the field of disability law.
  • HathiTrust Digital Library
    The HathiTrust Digital Library is a repository with access to the full text of out-of-copyright texts through our Syracuse University membership. We have guides for searching and for downloading. Consider using search terms that are contemporary within the time period that you are searching; examples: asylum, retarded, crippled, and handicapped.

Accessibility note: Syracuse University users with certified print disabilities can request text-enabled PDFs of HathiTrust volumes. These are requested on a title-by-title basis, and any item in HathiTrust is eligible, regardless of copyright status. See the HathiTrust Accessibility page for more information.

Non-Primary Sources Worth Exploring

There is an abundance of resources related to studies in disability research and a few recommendations are listed below.

  • YouTube
    YouTube is a source of personal narratives and documentaries. Two examples are listed below.
  • Wikipedia
    We are all familiar with Wikipedia, but one may not realize that the references listed with many of the entries provides information that may lead to primary source material. Scroll down to the sections labeled References or Sources for potential research material. For example, the entry for disability has an extensive lists of references and sources. Consider searching by personal name, event, ADA, ableism, and other terms, both historical and contemporary.
  • Kanopy
    (Access is restricted to SU students, faculty, and staff.)
    Kanopy offers streaming video of contemporary films and documentaries, including numerous films related to disabilities studies. Many videos are closed captioned, but captioning may be requested when not indicated.
  • Disability Social History Project – Disability.gov
    Disability.gov hosts the Disability Social History Project and includes information about disability history and the leaders in disability rights. An extensive bibliography is included in its Books & Articles section.
  • The NCCSD Clearinghouse and Resource Library
    The National Center for College Students with Disabilities Clearinghouse and Resource Library includes resources about disability and higher education. The Information for Researchers and Policymakers page includes information for writing about disability and researching disability in higher education.
  • Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook
    In 1972 Geraldo River’s investigative reporting exposed the conditions at the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island in New York City which operated from 1947 until 1987.
  • Purgatory: An Historical Analysis of the Belchertown State Schools
    Purgatory investigates the history and conditions of the Belchertown State Schools and the problems faced by those with disabilities.

Internet Searching

An internet search can uncover hidden sources of personal narratives, blogs, interviews, articles in academic repositories, and oral histories. For example, a Google search for (disability “personal narratives”) found the following: