16 November to 16 December 2022 is UK Disability History Month, an annual event creating a platform to focus on the history of the rights and dignity of disabled people. Over the next four weeks, we will be highlighting some aspects of our collections relating to the history of disability. Some of the collection items we will be discussing contain historical language that would today be considered offensive. English Heritage have produced a glossary of terms used within disability history, including many that appear frequently in historical records.
In recognition of UK Disability History Month 2022, the Sounds for the Future team have had the opportunity to reflect on one of our recently catalogued oral history collections ‘Mosaic Our Lives’. Mosaic began life as the ‘Leicester Guild of the Crippled’ in 1898 at Bishop Street Methodist Church to support the needs of people living with a disability in Leicestershire. It is now a recognised disability charity providing ‘life enhancing support and care services which promote inclusion, equality, independence, choice, empowerment, respect and dignity for all.’
The Mosaic Our Lives oral history collection consists of 48 interviews conducted with three different groups of interviewees, ‘those who were born with a disability, those who have acquired a disability as a result of a medical condition and those who have suffered a sudden trauma, stroke or accident’. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and worked with a staggering 60 volunteers to facilitate and conduct interviews from September 2011 to March 2013. They focus on the personal experiences of individuals who interact with Mosaic and their diverse experiences of disability.
Within the targeted groups, interviewees provide an insight into the landscape of support and care for people living with a disability in the UK. They discuss the changes that have taken place in access to employment, medical care, education, transportation and social assistance both locally and nationally. Interviewees detail recent technological advancement in aids and appliances that support independence and quality of life. They demonstrate the use and efficacy of automated homes, audio assisted appliances, voice command technology and hand control cars.
Whilst every experience of disability is as varied and nuanced as the individual, common concerns were shared regarding the decrease in financial and social support offered by the government and local councils. Individuals describe the deterioration of the welfare state in the UK and the significant impact this has had on the lives and experiences of people with a disability.
The project had an excellent final output with excerpts of oral testimonies compiled onto a DVD and a magazine featuring articles and poems written by interviewees were produced. Finally, a travelling display was erected and used to educate the general public about the lives and experiences of individuals living with disabilities and the support that Mosaic continues to offer to the people of Leicestershire.
Quotes taken from the ‘Mosaic Our Lives’ Booklet. To find out more about The Guild, visit the Story of Leicester website. You can find more book recommendations in our Disability History Month reading list, based on titles suggested by our students.
Sounds for the Future is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thank you to National Lottery Players for making this work possible.