How to look for records of... Disability history
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
This is a brief guide to researching records of disability. Research requires an understanding of the history of disability and how attitudes and terminology changed over time. This guide highlights some of the key sources and demonstrates the wide variety and large number of government departments in which they are found. The records held at The National Archives will often complement records kept in a variety of local archives and specialist collections. Most of these records are not of specific disabled people but of government policy and services.
1. What would it be useful to know before I start?
2. What records can I see online?
3. What records can I find only at The National Archives at Kew?
4. What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
5. What other resources will help me find information?
6. Did you know?
‘Disability’ has been defined in many different ways over time. For the purpose of this guide, we have taken ‘disability’ to include:
- impairments of all types whether sensory or physical
- conditions that people are living with permanently or over a long period of time
- long lasting, or permanent, injury from war
This guide includes deafness and blindness as these have historically been treated as disabilities.
Vital to research on disability is an understanding of how perceptions of what constituted disability have changed over time. For example, permanent disabilities caused by poorly treated fractures are not as common today, but this would have been a major cause of long-term disability previously.
It is essential that you use terminology contemporary to the time to search for records. Descriptive terms for different disabilities have often changed, and many terms used in historical records are now considered offensive.
The Tomlinson Committee was set up during the Second World War specifically to review and recommend services for disabled people.