Share #DisabilityStories on Wednesday, July 15

Update: #DisabilityStories was a success! Read the summary.

Here's one reason I love my job: I get to read the museum's blog posts before you do.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing about 15 blog posts related to the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act for publication. In the process, I've been struck by the objects in our collection that help tell diverse stories of disability, as well as the ways in which each blogger has interpreted these pieces of material culture. For example, we have a tactile model of George Washington's Mt. Vernon used to teach students who were blind or had low vision about the first president, a turquoise blue iron lung used to help patients with polio breathe in the 1930s, and t-shirts and buttons worn by about 150 disability rights activists who occupied a federal office in San Francisco for 25 days until President Jimmy Carter's administration agreed to implement a law protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

white button with black text

Exposure to these objects and stories has made me think differently about American history and culture. As diverse as these objects and stories are, I know there are even more perspectives to consider, voices to include, and ways to commemorate the 25th anniversary of this landmark piece of legislation.

That's why I'm excited for #DisabilityStories, an international conversation on Twitter and other social networks that will take place on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Join this museum, the Kennedy Center's Office of VSA and Accessibility, the U.S. National Archives, and many more in sharing #DisabilityStories in the form of photos, facts, links, videos, and conversation on social media. The conversation will highlight that stories of people with disabilities are everywhere—including some unexpected places—and they're important. These stories invite reflection, questions, connections, and celebration.

Interested in participating, whether by following along or chiming in to share your own thoughts? First, add the event to your calendar. Our handy calendar system allows you to save the event to your Apple, Yahoo, Windows, or Google calendar. Second, read on to learn more about the day.

Yellow button with black text

Who's invited? Everyone. The public, galleries, libraries, archives, museums, science centers, historic sites, cultural organizations, and communities—everyone—is invited share disability stories on July 15. These could be personal stories shared by individuals, links to favorite articles or books, resources for educators or parents, factoids, objects in museum collections, discussion questions, and more. It will be a bit of a jamboree.

Participants in #DisabilityStories are encouraged to follow the federal social media accessibility toolkit and other relevant guidelines to help insure that their contributions are accessible for people with disabilities. This is a great opportunity for me as a social media manager, as well as for members of the public who are social media users, to learn about best practices for accessibility on social media and the web.

Large tube-shaped machine with six legs on rolling wheels. Blue in color with small windows.

Why July? July 26 is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Forty years ago this month, VSA embarked on a mission—to champion quality arts and arts education for and with people living with disabilities.

What stories should I share? Diverse ones. And you don't have to work at a museum, archive, or cultural center to participate. Here are a few things nearly anyone could add to the conversation.

  • Give your favorite actor, author, artist, comedian, or musician a shout out. Mat Fraser of American Horror Story, for example, has produced the original piece "Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box."
  • Share reflections on the depiction of people with disabilities in film, television (such as Star Trek or Doctor Who), and theater.  
  • Talk about a story that really moved you, made you ask questions, or helped you see the world differently.
  • Tell your own story. 
  • Support and thank others whose stories you enjoy. Let your favorite museum, archive, or cultural center know you appreciate the #DisabilityStories they bring forward. 
  • Ask a question. Participating organizations will have curators, archivists, and experts on board to facilitate discussion and answer questions related to their missions. 

When should I participate? The timing is flexible. With participants in all time zones, #DisabilityStories will take place all day. Drop in for a minute or stay for an hour. The schedule below provides an idea of just a few things to expect on Wednesday, but there will be plenty more.

Schedule for July 15:

All times are EDT. 

Throughout the day:

  • Culture Themes (@CultureThemes) will highlight the best content from across the museum, libraries, and archives field. 
  • At the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (@amhistorymuseum), we'll share the stories of people, places, and objects connected to disability history. For example, we'll tweet about Mark O’Brien, who shared his story of living in an iron lung to inspire improvement in the rights and legal protection of the disabled community. We'll go even further back in American history to share the story of Patrick Henry's wife Mary, who had a mental illness.
  • The National Archives (@USNatArchives) will share the stories of documents, such as the Braille letter carefully handwritten to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 by 13-year-old John Beaulieu.
  • (@disabilitygov) will share stories and resources, focusing on the need for continued disability rights activism, people living with "No Boundaries," and more.

Never participated in a Twitter chat? Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it. 

There are many articles providing tips on how to engage in a Twitter chat. The most important thing is to follow the conversation by looking at tweets with the hashtag #DisabilityStories using Twitter's search function. If there are a lot of people tweeting, the conversation may move quickly. But don't worry about reading every single tweet. Use the hashtag to identify tweeters you want to follow or interact with, follow links that look interesting, and explore the topic. To add your own voice to the conversation, make sure to use the hashtag #DisabilityStories in every tweet, including the pound sign. Learning to participate in Twitter chats can be a great way to connect with professional contacts (teachers, in particular, are well known for high quality Twitter chats) or people who share your hobbies and interests. 

Model of Mt. Vernon building in white, green, and dark red

But it's more than just one day. Throughout the day, relationships will form and tighten, Twitter lists will grow, resources will be bookmarked, and perspectives will shift. Lasting results will include future blog posts delving into key topics and questions that resonated in conversation on July 15. Themes emerging from the online chat will continue to re-surface during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 40th anniversary of the VSA.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department.