Disability, the Sideshow, and Modern Museum Practices


  • Katie Stringer


This paper addresses questions about disability history, the history of the relationship between museums and people with disabilities, the history of museums and exhibits as collections of curiosities including people with disabilities, and how that past has informed the present.  Preserving and distributing knowledge have been the major pillars of museums’ work during the modern age.  Racial and ethnic inclusiveness were addressed throughout the Civil Rights Movement and the decades that followed, and accommodations have also been made in society for physical disabilities with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Many times the community has excluded disabled people, whether intentionally or not.   

In addition to evaluating information on how museums and other organizations of the past, the sideshow, and the community in general treated people with disabilities, this paper also presents information about how modern museums react to their learning disabled visitors.  The paper presents information about research into possibilities of a model for museums to use to develop specific programming and exhibits for people with cognitive delay and disabilities.