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UT Arlington Libraries become first in Texas to digitize disability history

Monday, August 31, 2015

Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

News Topics: alumni, faculty, history, sports, staff, student life, students

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In the early 1970s, University of Texas at Arlington students who used wheelchairs had their choice of majors: history or accounting. Those two degrees were the only ones whose classes were held in wheelchair-accessible buildings.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection

Jim Hayes, founder and longtime coach of the UTA Movin' Mavs wheelchair basketball team, training for a charity event in 1986.

Since then, the University has steadily improved access and opportunities for students with disabilities and become a model campus for adaptive sports.

UT Arlington Libraries are set to continue this legacy with a $25,000 TexTreasures grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to digitize and publish disability history relating to UTA and Texas.

The digitized items will become part of the Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection and made available through a website set to launch in late spring.

The disability history collection, the only such collection in Texas or the Southwest, includes 40 oral history interviews with prominent disability rights advocates and Texans with disabilities, and hundreds of UTA Libraries Special Collections holdings such as personal papers, organizational records, photographs, and audio and video recordings. Additions to the disability history collection are ongoing.

“We are delighted that the TexTreasures grant allows UTA Libraries to digitize and create access to a unique and extraordinary collection showing the evolution of disability rights in Texas,” said Rebecca Bichel, dean of UT Arlington Libraries. “UT Arlington has long been a leader in disability access and adaptive sports, and continues to blaze new trails with the recent establishment of a minor in disability studies.”

Libraries staff members are also discovering pieces from other collections that can augment the Texas Disability History Collection.

“There are more stories out there than we realize,” said Brenda McClurkin, head of Special Collections. “We are looking at our existing collections with new eyes.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection

A woman receiving a Bible written in Braille, 1938.

One such find was Betty Andujar in the Libraries’ Texas Political History Collection. Andujar, a Tarrant County state senator from 1973-1982, worked with the Texas Commission for the Blind and kept records of her involvement. In the Texas Labor Archives, staff found 1950s-era correspondence between the Fort Worth Trades Assembly and the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped. Photographs from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection reveal moments such as a woman receiving a Braille Bible in 1938 and Jim Hayes, founder and long-time coach of UTA’s Movin' Mavs wheelchair basketball team, training for a charity event in 1986.

UTA Libraries will develop the Texas Disability History Collection website with accessibility as the top priority. Text-based documents will be converted with optical character recognition software so that they are viable for people using screen readers. Video and audio files will be described through alternate means for people with hearing or vision impairments.

Sarah Rose, a UT Arlington associate professor of history and director of the Minor in Disability Studies program, noted the significance of making such history available through the digitization project.

“Disability history is a different kind of history that is hidden, but exciting to find,” said Rose, who predicts the materials will appeal to students, researchers, activists, and non-profit organizations.

“Twenty percent of the population has a disability. It’s the largest minority in the world and the only one anyone can join at any time.”

For more information about the project, contact Special Collections at spcoref@uta.edu or 817-272-3393.

The digitization project, called Digitizing for Accessibility, is made possible by a grant from 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.

-- Evelyn Barker, contributing writer

About the UT Arlington Libraries

Supporting The University of Texas at Arlington and the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, UT Arlington Libraries create transformational learning experiences by connecting people to first-class resources, empowering knowledge creation, exploring ideas and pursuing innovations in learning. The UTA FabLab offers all students access to cutting-edge technology for research in digital fabrication and data visualization. UTA Libraries Special Collections focuses on the history of Texas, Mexico and the Southwest, and includes one of the finest cartography collections on Texas and the Gulf of Mexico in the world. The Libraries recently completed an $800,000 cold storage preservation vault for its collection of approximately 5 million photographic negatives. To learn more about UTA Libraries, please visit http://library.uta.edu.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a “Best for Vets” college by Military Times magazine. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.