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This is the story of a movement by people once othered, rejected, sometimes feared. It is a story informed by educational and residential institutions. Social action is a part of this story. Advocacy, technology and support services are central.

People with disability and those who knew about, taught and cared for them, fought battles for recognition, rights, resources.

Rights have been gained, under-pinned by innovative legislation. In 1981, the International year of Persons with Disability helped bring change.

Today there is a great emphasis on human rights and advocacy, intersecting with the struggles of other minority groups.

People with disability seek equal access to education, employment, the arts, and community, often with a focus on technology.

Resources at the Library

People with Disability – History

Search results include

The shape of sound : a memoir by Fiona Murphy

Disability : a reference handbook by Michael Rembis

Accessible America : a history of disability and design by Bess Williamson.


Disability in the Modern World: History of a Social Movement

One person in seven experiences disability - discover the story of this community and its contributions through this addition to the scholarly record of periodicals, interviews, memoir and more from around the world.


Poster promoting rights of people with disability

 Wells, Dianna. (1988). We All Have A Right To... H90.95/47


Education and reforms in education have been crucial.

In former times significant numbers of people living with disability were taught in schools separated from mainstream society.

Some were institutionalized from childhood, for their entire lives.

A long process of advocacy and deinstitutionalization saw children integrated into mainstream classrooms.

Resources at the Library

Ebooks & print books

Articles (add additional terms to narrow and focus the search)


Language can define a community.

Sign languages evolved throughout the world wherever deaf children grew up together. Some 300 interconnected sign languages exist throughout the world. 

The majority sign language of the Australian Deaf community is Auslan. There are also a number of Australian Aboriginal sign languages which sign the oral language. Some are used in place of speech at culturally significant times.

In Far North Queensland there is an Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander dialect of Auslan.

Resources at the Library

Books & video


Deaf culture

Deaf culture is the set of social beliefs and traditions of communities that are influenced by deafness and use sign-languages as their primary form of communication.

The word 'deaf' is considered a diagnosis. The Deaf community proudly uses 'Deaf' with a capital D. 

Resources at the Library


Print books & video

Recent articles


The Braille writing system is central to the education and employment of those who are vision-impaired or blind.

Louis Braille recognized the limitations of the books embossed with letters of the Roman alphabet, used in his day for the education of the blind. 

In 1824 he devised a tactile alphabet constructed in cells that can be read by finger-tips. Today Braille codes exist for over 133 languages.

Resources at the Library

Print books



Louis Braille biographical books & articles

General search strategies


People with disabilities - civil rights

Search results include

No pity : people with disabilities forging a new civil rights movement by Joseph H. Shapiro.


Disability insurance - Government policy - Australia

Search results include

The National Disability Insurance scheme : an Australian public policy experiment edited by Mhairi Cowden and Claire McCullagh


ProQuest Ebook Central: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Collection links to over 18,000 titles relating to aspects of diversity.

Note: to search within this collection visit Advanced Search and select the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion filter.

A search under 'disability' links to many titles.


Biography - classic

The story of my life by Helen Keller (1880-1968) a deaf-blind author and pioneering disability activist. 

The world I live in by Helen Keller

I can jump puddles (1955), This is the grass (1962) and In mine own heart (1963) by Alan Marshall form an autobiographical series usually known as I can jump puddles.

In 1981 this was made into a film. Alan Marshall (1908-1984) recovered from polio to become a writer and activist.

Seeing voices: a journey into the world of the deaf (1981) by British neurologist and writer Dr Oliver Sacks.

Biography - contemporary

Growing up disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay. Contains interviews and contributions from 40 prominent Australians.

Ten steps to Nanette is the memoir of Australian comedian, writer and actor, Hannah Gadsby.

This includes discussion of her diagnosis, as an adult, of being both on the Autism Spectrum and having Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Earshot: a photographic collection of stories on deafness and hearing loss by multidisciplinary artist and author Kate Disher-Quill. 

A book to give permanent life to the travelling exhibition Right here, right now this includes personal stories of living with deafness or being hard-of-hearing.

It includes discussion of her own journey, from feeling like an outsider as a child and young adult with hearing loss, to self-acceptance and curating exhibitions in the disability space.

Not dark yet : a personal history by Australian Historian David Walker.

Walker describes becoming legally blind in late career and how this changed his life and the direction of his research.

Related guides

How to find medical information

a guide to medical and health resources at the Library

School and education history in Victoria

a guide to help research into education in Victoria