Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection comes courtesy of UTA’s Jeff Downing and Betty Shankle.
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July’s oven-like heat drenched Jim Hayes’ shirt with sweat as he pulled cable for Western Electric one last time. On Monday he was going to trade his workman’s clothes for the olive drab of the Army, but today was his 18th birthday and he intended to celebrate.
Once home, he shoehorned eight of his family and friends into his 1963 Ford Fairlane and made the short drive to Fort Worth’s Lake Benbrook. During the ride Jim’s younger brother, John, bragged that he could swim the length of a nearby cove faster than Jim. As soon as the car pulled up to the lake, John sprang from the car and sprinted into the water. John was far ahead even before Jim got out of the car, but Jim knew a shortcut and he was a fast runner. He tore across the bank to a floating barge and climbed on top of the slippery barrier rail, ready to jump over it and into the lake.
Jim Hayes acquired quadriplegia on July 28, 1967, when he lost his footing and pitched head-first into two feet of water, breaking his neck.
After the accident, Jim enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1971, only two majors were taught in wheelchair-accessible buildings—history and accounting. Jim chose history; he hated math.
Jim had been an athletic youth and he worried about the health effects of a sedentary life in a wheelchair. In 1976 he founded the Freewheelers wheelchair basketball team, which later changed its name to Movin’ Mavs. The team brought national attention to UTA when it won four National Wheelchair Basketball Association championships in a row, establishing the school as a leader in adaptive sports. In 1989, Hayes and UTA offered the first full-ride scholarships for adapted sports in the country, forcing other universities to follow suit or lose talent to UTA.
When Jim died in 2008, hundreds attended the memorial service on the UTA campus and told stories of how he encouraged them to persevere. Jim’s own view of perseverance was summed up best in an interview he gave to the Dallas Morning News: “You can sit in a dark room watching TV and eating Cheetos for the rest of your life, if that’s what you want. But you don’t have to.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly one-fifth of the population has a disability, making this the largest minority group in the country and the only one that anyone can join at any time. The history of disability leaders, activists, and milestones is often marginalized, making it difficult for members of the disability community to discover their own stories of empowerment, development, and activism.
Jim’s story is one of hundreds preserved in UTA Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection (TDHC) online. The site, launched in 2016, makes once-hidden disability records available to researchers anywhere. The project was a collaboration between two Libraries’ departments, Digital Creation and Special Collections, and the University’s Disability Studies Minor. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.
UTA Libraries believed it was crucial to incorporate best practices for online accessibility into the website, encompassing visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. During the website development process, UTA Libraries followed the standards issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Special Collections partners were tasked with selecting 1,500 documents and photographs for the site from existing archived collections. Locating records not accessed regularly proved challenging. A priority was to determine keywords to use for searching finding aids, since Special Collections houses few collections entirely comprised of disability records. For example, we encountered difficulty finding polio records; it took a while to learn that, decades ago, polio was often called infantile paralysis. After re-thinking our search terminology, we located many more disability manuscript and photograph records than we thought possible.
The Digital Creation department staff were responsible for project management, scanning materials, and building the website using Drupal. The chair of the Disability Studies Minor and her assistant were tasked with compiling a group of 40 oral histories, as well as advising on the site’s taxonomy.
Building for the Future
The foundational work on TDHC described above feeds into coming work by the Disability History/Archives Consortium in building a U.S.-wide portal for disability history collections. UTA researchers are already using the TDHC as a primary research tool. As a result of the project, UTA Libraries has developed expertise around designing maximally accessible websites and collecting disability-related materials. Growth of the collection and website is assured with $10,000 in additional support from UTA’s College of Liberal Arts. Connections are being made with State of Texas officials responsible for supporting disability efforts. In 2017-2018, an inventory to identify other disability-related collections in Texas will happen to inform planning of future activities.
Because of the project, the UTA Libraries has added disability records to its collection scope and is the “only repository in the state focused on collecting Texas disability history.” There remain many stories to tell.
Jeff Downing, Digital Projects Librarian, UT Arlington Libraries. Jeff has been a Digital Projects Librarian at UTA Libraries for four years. During his 35 year career, Jeff has worked for a number of libraries and library-related organizations, including Amigos Library Services, the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory Library and of course UT Arlington.
Betty Shankle is the University and Labor Collections Archivist at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections. Betty has worked in the Archives field since 2004 and served on local, state and regional professional committees, presented at local and regional conferences, published articles, and curated several archival exhibits.