Skip to Main Content

OSU Disability Archives: Disability History in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center: Oregon's Disabled Community Histories

The OSU DisArchives serve as a resource to share the stories of disabled people with connections to the OSU and Corvallis communities.

Histories of Disabled Communities in Oregon

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest have unique and complex histories of disability. Recent history includes the stories of disabled Oregonians whose art, activism, and community building efforts have improved equity and inclusion for disabled people and increased awareness of sanism and ableism as oppressive forces. However, oppression and violence against disabled communities are also part of these histories. Learning about Oregon's participation in histories of eugenics, institutionalization, and ableist oppression is important context for understanding the ongoing activist work of disabled Oregonians today. By no means comprehensive, below are resources about Oregon's Disabled Community Histories.

Smith, Jasper. (2021). DD Timeline: A History of Developmental Disability-Related Policy. Independently published.

"Presented as a timeline, this book shows how non-industrial societies accepted and adapted to differences among members. Current society labels disability as an individual biological or social problem. Yet wars, cars, "accidents," social media, pollution, and many other of the inventions of modern society cause physical and mental disabilities. The timeline gives a comprehensive temporal view of how this all came about. While the timeline leads to the history of a particular program, the Benton County Oregon Developmental Diversity Program, it gives a long historical view. It documents how disabilities have been culturally defined, caused, and treated. It reviews principles and policies, compassion and categorization, helping and hurting that are part of the cultural history for addressing the development of differing abilities." ~ Court Smith, Professor of Language, Culture, and Society, OSU

Fleischer, Doris Zames, & Zames, Frieda. (2011). The disability rights movement : from charity to confrontation (Updated edition.). Temple University Press.

Based on interviews with almost a hundred activists, this E-Book provides a detailed history of the struggle for disability rights in the United States. It is a complex story of shifts in consciousness and shifts in policy, of changing focuses on particular disabilities such as blindness, deafness, polio, quadriplegia, psychiatric and developmental disabilities, chronic conditions (for example, cancer and heart disease), AIDS, and of activism and policymaking across disabilities. Referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act as "every American's insurance policy," the authors recount the genesis of this civil rights approach to disability, from the almost forgotten disability activism of the 1930s, to the independent living movement of the 1970s, to the call for disability pride of the 1990s. Chapter 8 focus on assisted suicide in Oregon. Note: the link is to the OSU Libraries Catalog.

Horton, K. (2020). In the shadow of Fairview. Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

For nearly 100 years, Fairview was Oregon's primary institution for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Twenty years ago, the last resident left as the center closed amid lawsuits and investigations. This resource includes a brief article and a one hour documentary about the notorious Fairview institution. 

Joff, J., Christiansen, S., Alessi, A. (Producers). (1990). Common ground: Dance and disability. [Video] DanceAbility International.

This video shows individuals with a variety of disabilities exploring physical movement and dance. It features people in and out of wheelchairs practicing balances and lifts and improvising movement sequences, and is set in Eugene, Oregon. Note: OSU login is required for access. 

Kitzhaber, J. A., & Oregon. Office of the Governor, issuing body. (2002). Proclamation of Human Rights Day, and apology for Oregon's forced sterilization of institutionalized patients. [Oregon Office of the Governor].

This proclamation discusses the abuses to patients in state-run institutions due to the establishment of the Oregon State Board of Eugenics and the Oregon Board of Social Protection and reviews steps taken to reform the policies and procedures that govern the treatment of people under the state's care. Note: the link is to the OSU Libraries Catalog.

Largent, Mark A. (2002). The greatest curse of the race: Eugenic sterilization in Oregon, 1909-1983. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 103(2), 188–209.

On August 9, 1935, readers of the Oregon Journal learned that state leaders hoped to reduce the high costs of prisons and charitable institutions by sterilizing and releasing selected criminals and patients. They believed, the Journal reported, that "the state must take more drastic steps to halt the increase in the numbers of criminally and mentally diseased persons." By sterilizing "morally degenerate or sexually perverted" inmates and patients, the state would render "unfit citizens" harmless to the general population and eliminate the threat that they would procreate and increase their numbers. Note: OSU login is required for access.

Tran, H., Ross, Terryl, & Oregon State University. Office of Community & Diversity. (2008). Disability voices project. Oregon State University.

This DVD interviews Oregon State University's disabled students, faculty, and staff who share their stories and experiences living with disabilities. Note: the link is to the OSU Libraries Catalog.

Turner, A. (2016, Summer). Changing the debate: a Twentieth-Century history of people with disabilities, their families, and genetic counseling. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 117(2), 134.

ON OCTOBER 12, 1974, Valerie Schaaf took the podium in front of a convention hall packed with more than 500 people from across Oregon. They gathered at the Otter Crest convention center, near the town of Otter Rock on the Oregon coast, for what would be a groundbreaking meeting. Schaaf, then in her early twenties, stepped to the microphone and announced: "This, the first People First convention is officially called to order!" (1) The two-day meeting brought into being one of the first statewide organizations in the United States composed of, and run by, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities Note: OSU login is required for access.

Carpenter, M. (2022). The Oregon School for the Deaf: How a School Became a Community. Oregon Historical Society Dear Oregon Blog.

Beginning in August 2020, OHS Digital Collections intern Maria Carpenter spent about eight weeks in OHS’s research library preparing 75 images for digitization from the Oregon School for the Deaf photograph collection (Org. Lot 618). In this blog post on Dear Oregon, she describes the history of the school and highlights a selection of images from the collection in a slideshow. The photographs document the school grounds and student activities between 1870 and 1989, when the collection was donated to OHS. In the post, Carpenter also reflects on how the collection of images serve as a record of the Deaf community in Oregon that the school helped build.

Oregon Disability Rights Organizations

AYCO: The AYCO mission is “to settle the past, engage the present, and hope for the future.” AYCO strives to strengthen a sense of cultural identity within immigrant communities while also enhancing capacity toward integration and hope for the future. AYCO began working with immigrant and refugee youth in 2009, developing opportunities for mentorship and sports activities. Since its inception, the need for more comprehensive family and community support has moved AYCO toward family mentorship, parent-school mediation, cultural brokering and trainings with mainstream institutions, inclusionary programming for people with disabilities, and English language classes.

The Center on Human Development at the University of Oregon: The Center on Human Development (CHD) at the University of Oregon (UO) is dedicated to research, training, and outreach to support individuals with disabilities, their families, and communities. Our efforts cross the lifespan and include projects focusing on early intervention, k-12 schooling, adult transition and aging.

Disability Rights Oregon: An organization with the mission to promote and defend the rights of individuals with disabilities. Disability Rights Oregon pushes communities to reshape how we set up our schools, workplaces, parks, places of business, and public systems to ensure that people with disabilities truly belong. Disability Rights Oregon is a non-profit advocacy organization. Our work is guided by the annual priorities set out by a Board of Directors, a Mental Health Advisory Council, and the disability community. Since 1977, we've gone into places that others can’t. We shine a light on conditions in jails, prisons, hospitals, schools, and other facilities across the state. We fight to uphold the civil rights of Oregonians with disabilities regardless of where they live.

FACT Oregon: FACT Oregon helps thousands of families each year navigate raising a child experiencing disability. We support and equip you, wherever you may be on your journey! The outcome is families with high expectations for their child and a vision for the future where all communities are accessible, welcoming, and embrace that disability is natural.

Independence Northwest: The mission of Independence Northwest is to support people with developmental disabilities to access resources necessary to ensure equality, respect, independence, and complete ownership over their lives. The principles of self-determination are at the heart of our approach; we firmly believe that freedom, authority, autonomy, responsibility and confirmation are key aspects to the success of anyone and everyone.

NAMI Oregon: NAMI Oregon is the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We are a statewide grassroots organization that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals living with mental illness, as well as their families and loved ones. In conjunction with our 15 local chapters, or affiliates, we serve all Oregonians through our education and support programs at the state and local levels. NAMI members, volunteers and leaders are all people with direct lived experience with mental illness. Some are individuals living with mental illness, some are family members with a loved one with mental illness, some are parents or caregivers raising a child with mental illness.

Portland Disability Justice Collective: The Portland Disability Justice Collective is a project of The UPRISE Collective. We are a grassroots social engagement and support group by and for queer/trans, black, indigenous, multiracial folks and people of color (straight/cis/white disabled folks are welcome, but not centered) sick, disabled, Mad/mentally ill, D/deaf/HoH, low vision/blind, neuroatypical, or otherwise chronically ill people who are in Portland OR and Vancouver WA, to deepen our understanding, practice, and self-reflection of disability justice and mutual aid.