Disability History

Group of people in wheelchairs listening to a City engineer speak outside a shop.
City Light Director of Construction Engineering John Hansen speaking to wheelchair users who had requested additional curb ramps be installed as part of an underground wiring project along 45th Ave in Wallingford, 1979. Pictured standing with two canes is Paul Wysocki, Director of the City's then Handicapped Services Unit and later supervisor of the Human Rights Department's Affirmative Action/Disability Unit. Images 195241 and 195242, Seattle Municipal Archives

About the Disability Activism History Project 

We’re documenting Seattle’s disability history, and we want you involved. In 2024, the Historic Preservation Program at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods is supporting a team of researchers and advisors from the disability community to gather information on the history of disability activism in Seattle and write a historic context study, the first of its kind in the United States. This project is designed to be an inclusive and intersectional exploration of disability activism in the city and the places connected to those stories. We hope this work will make it easier for the community to discuss and advocate for the places connected to these important stories.  

Seattle’s historic preservation program conserves the city’s heritage through its historically meaningful places. For years, historically marginalized communities have been excluded, and in some cases, harmed by the historic preservation movement. We believe it’s our responsibility to work with communities to identify what they find historically significant.

City staff won a grant to take a step toward building inclusion in our history writing and landmarking process. We chose disability activism to center the project on the agency of people with disabilities to help define their story and their impact on the city. The project will focus on oral history interviews to ensure that community voices are telling the stories. 

A historic context study is a written report designed to make it easier to explore the historic significance of a place connected to a topic. It achieves this by organizing the history into themes that people can use to quickly understand what kind of places are important in advocacy efforts, historic nominations, and other kinds of research. The report itself does not enact laws or designate places, but it is a first step to fully integrating the important stories of people with disabilities into the City’s landmark lists and preservation efforts.

If you're a member of the disability community, we want to hear your disability activism history stories. In particular, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ disability community members are encouraged to share their stories. Keep in mind that we are bound by public disclosure laws, so any emails you send are part of public record. For more information, see the Public Records Act, RCW Chapter 42.56. To learn more about how we manage your information, see our Privacy Statement.

Have an idea or a lead you'd like to share? Submit your ideas with the form below:

Do you have questions about this project? We are eager to talk about it and we are learning from you as we go. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

Email michael.delange@seattle.gov or susie.philipsen@seattle.gov.

Michael de Lange is a Senior Community Development Planner and is leading the project on behalf of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Michael is a neurodivergent public historian who worked for the State Historic Preservation Offices in Hawaiʻi and Oregon before coming to the Department of Neighborhoods.

Gail Dubrow is Professor of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Public Affairs and Planning, and History at the University of Minnesota. Dubrow is a social historian of the built environment and cultural landscapes who is active in the preservation of places significant in the history of women, ethnic communities of color, and other underrepresented groups. 

Laura Leppink is a public historian, heritage conservationist, and activist. She is a graduate of the Heritage Studies and Public History MA program and is dedicated to turning knowledge into action by using the practices of public history, critical disability studies, and disability justice principles to foster equity in place-based history fields. 
Morgan LaCasse is a graphic designer and illustrator. Embracing diversity-focused projects, Morgan has experience with book design, user experience, packaging design, branding, screen printing, digital illustration, and painting. 

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Jenifer Chao, Director
Address: 600 4th Avenue, 4th Floor, Seattle, WA , 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94649, Seattle, WA, 98124-4649
Phone: (206) 684-0464
Fax: (206) 233-5142

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