Bethan Rees is behind a touring exhibition about the history of disability, created by young and disabled people living in Norfolk. Ahead of the opening at Ancient House Thetford tomorrow, on International Day of Disabled Persons, she explains how the exhibition aims to highlight how attitudes to disability have changed
The initial idea for Nothing About Us without Us, a new touring exhibition about the history of disability, came from Ancient House Teenage History Club alumni, Bethan Rees. She had worked with other young people to identify thirteen objects from across the Norfolk Museums collections which explore social attitudes to physical and hidden disability during the last 200 years.
Supported by Norfolk Museum Service’s youth engagement programme, Kick the Dust, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Bethan worked via Zoom with groups that all include people with disabilities. The Norfolk County Council SEND Youth Forum chose the objects, and the Time Turners at Stories of Lynn and three Kick the Dust work experience participants researched and wrote the text, created activities and designed the graphic panels. Bethan wrote and illustrated an accompanying booklet to explain any tricky terminology, and also pitched successfully to accession two new objects to the toy collections of Strangers’ Hall Museum in Norwich.
The exhibition’s title – Nothing About Us without Us – informed all the decision-making, putting accessibility and disabled and youth voices at the forefront at every stage.
The exhibition opens tomorrow, on International Day of Disabled Persons, a United Nations-sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally on December 3. In the UK, one in five people have a disability, 83 per cent of which are acquired during working life.
Bethan says: ‘Disability history is often overlooked when there is so much there, from individual stories to larger movements and changes. This exhibition, which right the way through its creation heavily involved input and creation from disabled people, myself included, aims to share stories of disabled people in Norfolk and discuss how attitudes towards disability have changed.’
Alongside the exhibition, Ancient House will also be offering an insight into how photographic historiography can reveal information about disability history. It has been said that disability is everywhere, once you start looking for it, but mostly missing from the history books – and all too often when we do see historical photographs of disabled people they are from medical records, and we never find out the person’s name.
Then, on Tuesday December 6, at 2pm, researcher Cath Cartman will share her research from the Picture Norfolk archive and describe how it led her to Ancient House Museum and a small book of local ‘characters’ called Dick, Teddy and Mr Keldell. The talk is free and can be seen either in-person at Ancient House or via live stream, booking essential.
Cllr Margaret Dewsbury, cabinet member for communities and partnerships at Norfolk Count Council, says: ‘This important touring exhibition gives young and disabled people living in Norfolk a voice to explore an often-neglected aspect of our history. The young people involved should be proud of their work in bringing these hidden stories to light. Alongside the talk delving into the county’s photographic archive, this programme shows the power of local collections and stories in connecting us to past lives.’
The Nothing About Us without Us exhibition runs from tomorrow (Saturday December 3) until January 14, 2023 and is part of Disability History Month (which finishes on December 16). Both the exhibition and the talk on Tuesday December 6, are an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of people living with a disability and raise awareness. The exhibition is free with general admission, the talk is free, but booking is essential: Norfolk Museums Service – Art Tickets