Visit the Only Bricks and Mortar Museum that Celebrates Disability!

Photo of Museum of disABILITY History

Planning on being in or around the Buffalo, N.Y. area this summer? If so, you may want to spend a few hours at the Museum of disABILITY History. Founded in 1998, the museum was the brainchild of Dr. James Boles, president and CEO of People Inc., Western N.Y.’s leading nonprofit human services agency. Boles first recognized a need for a museum that collected and displayed archives and materials related to disability while teaching an Introduction to Disabilities class at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

“The museum started with a small traveling exhibition entitled, “The Birth of Newborn Screening,” says Museum of disABILITY History director, Douglas Farley. “From there, it grew by adding a new exhibit each year. After ten years, the museum had enough content to set up shop permanently. In 2010, the New York State Board of Regents granted a charter.” It remains the only bricks and mortar museum dedicated to preserving disability history, says Farley.

The museum’s permanent installation includes exhibitions on how the care of people with disabilities has evolved from early poorhouses and almshouses to state schools and institutions. Other permanent exhibitions include “Eugenics in America,” “Pop Culture,” “Sports and Disability,” “The Evolution of Adaptive Equipment,” and a display of  “The Invacar, a three-wheeled carriage powered by a motorcycle-type engine, that was manufactured in Britain from 1948–1977.”

On display through the end of 2016, visitors can view the museum’s newest temporary exhibition, “In Celebration of Down Syndrome.” The multimedia exhibition chronicles the medical history, myths and realities highlights the successes of people with Down syndrome and explores depictions of Down syndrome in popular culture.” Highlights of “In Celebration of Down Syndrome” include photography by Eva Snoijink, author of “Downs Upside: A Positive View of Down’s Syndrome,” and “Kelly’s Hollywood,” a documentary by a woman with Down Syndrome.

Also on temporary display, is “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic.” The exhibition includes contents from hundreds of suitcases, belonging to patients at the Willard Psychiatric Center, located in the Finger Lakes region of N.Y. When the facility closed in 1995, the forgotten suitcases were discovered. They “tell the stories of the lives that were left behind when patients entered the center, many of whom never left.”

In addition to its exhibition, the museum features a wide range of public programs including films, openings, readings and special events.

The building which houses the museum, originally a 1930s-era fire hall, includes a 5,000 square foot gallery, a small theater, a space for the museum’s archives, offices and meeting rooms. Farley says the museum’s main floor is fully accessible, and each of the museum’s three levels is accessible by elevator. Museum docents are part of a vocational program with People Inc.

For additional information about the Museum of disABILITY, and to take its virtual tour, visit Also available on the museum’s site are free educational curricula about disability history for grades PreK – 12.

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