Zowie Sweetland's poster is inspired by a pair of 18th-century spectacles in the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, and the story they tell about the history of disability.

Would you consider a pair of glasses to be a disability aid? You might not now, but in the 1750s it was very different.

What is disability and why does it matter?

Poster 

A4 poster with colourful text against a white background, and images inset.  The first section of text is in three columns. The writing is a different colour in each column. It reads: "What is disability and why does it matter? There are many different interpretations of disability. Maybe you think of this: [picture of a wheelchair]. But would you consider mild sight loss a disability? Before glasses were invented, it would have been considered so... [photo of gold-rimmed 18th century spectacles, with their small leather case] ... as anyone who has ever lost their glasses may agree with!" The second section of text is in two columns. It says, "However, blindness and severe sight loss cannot be cured with glasses, and can have a huge impact on people’s everyday lives. As do many “invisible” conditions, such as migraines, which often affect people’s sight during a migraine attack. Not to mention, the impact of “invisible disabilities” such as Multiple Sclerosis, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Ehlers Danlos and many more. “Migraine-relief” glasses exist, which supposedly filter certain wavelengths of light to reduce eye pain– but are these genuine or just a gimmick? It can be hard to tell which products are actually going to help." [Photo of a pair of miraine relief glasses. They are large plastic glasses with dark lenses.] The final section of text runs along the bottom of the page. It says, "Next time you are in a museum, think about what items might have been used for and what type of society would create them. Did they help or hinder the people who needed to use them?"

Zowie says, "As someone with various disabilities, thinking about an object in terms of disability sounded appealing to raise awareness of "invisible disabilities."

Museum Remix Guest Curator Lucian Stephenson writes, "I loved the illustration of “invisible” disabilities through the “lens” (ho ho) of visual impairment, introducing the reader to disabilities that they might not be familiar with using the model of something that they will already understand. It worked perfectly."

The object that inspired the artwork: 18th-century spectacles

A spectacles case and spectacles are laid side by side against a back background. On the left, the spectacles case is droplet shaped and covered with lustrous green fishskin. It’s open to reveal a wooden interior, revealing that it is hinged on one side. On the right, the spectacles are laid on their side. They have round, gold-rimmed lenses, and the bridge is hinged.

These gold-rimmed spectacles in the Whipple Museum of the History of Science are hinged at the bridge so they may be folded neatly away into their fishskin case. They date from around 1750 to 1800, before attitudes towards disability hardened around whether a person was able to work. 

 

This artwork is part of the Museum Remix: Unheard project, and is featured in the Museum Remix: Woven Histories digital exhibition.