Finding collections relating to d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people

One of the aims of our project is to make collections relating to d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people more visible – and to share some of the objects our Fellows and Trainees are discovering.

Some will have quite obvious connections to disabled people’s lives – a walking stick, some braille or images of disabled people. But we will also be exploring less obvious connections too. Sometimes the significance of an object is its owner; its part in a bigger story, or the way someone with lived experience of disability has responded to it. In this way we hope to broaden the ways that d/Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent stories are told.



Rights information: Copyright: Hastings Museum and Art Gallery


Registers from Catharine House - Hastings and St Leonards Home for Invalid Gentlewomen.

Located on Church Road, Catharine House was a temporary place of respite for women recovering from long term ill health. Records of the home date back to 1863, and though the organisation saw several name changes over the decades it appears to have remained a home for invalid women up until 1994.

Community curation: The term invalid most often referred to someone who had suffered some form of incapacity due to long term physical/mental health issues or disabilities. Prior to industrialisation differently abled people were assigned jobs/tasks based on their ability. The Industrial Revolution soon created a focus on productivity and for this ‘able bodied’ workers were favoured, and thus those who could not meet societal demands became ‘invalid.’

As a result, homes such as Catharine House became common during this period. People sent invalid family members to these homes for months or even years at a time in the hopes of rehabilitating them into, and perhaps at times hiding them away from, society. However, these residencies were not cheap and were accessible to the middle and upper classes.

Some 150 years later attitudes toward non-disabled people have seen little shift; and the stress of our high-pressure society is further impacting our overall health, leading many to burnout and even become disabled.

As a Neurodivergent (Autistic and ADHD) person, burnout is something I am all too familiar with, however for myself and many ND people, it is not just a state of exhaustion. The burnout we experience can affect our whole nervous system, causing digestive issues, mystery pains, insomnia, exacerbated sensory overload, and more. Basic tasks like eating and bathing can become almost impossible and many of us will require a carer during these times and where funding is not available for this, we must rely on friends and family which can lead to a deep sense of guilt. For me agoraphobia is one of the most difficult parts of burnout and being unable to leave home for days or weeks at a time can turn my safe space into a prison cell.

During burnout, to have support of trained caregivers and a place away from the pressures of daily life, would be a massive weight lifted; and staying somewhere like Catharine House could hugely reduce recovery time from years to months.