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: Museum of English Rural Life


A box with a handle which says ‘National Benevolent Fund. For members in distress. PLEASE HELP.’

This is one of a set of four wooden money collection boxes used by George Edwards in Norfolk for raising money to help members of National Union of Agricultural Workers (N.U.A.W.).

This was displayed as part of the Extra.Ordinary exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life. This exhibition relates the stories of six disabled individuals living in rural settings around the UK. Their experiences of collective struggle and resilience are illustrated through objects from The MERL collections. The display was curated during Disability Pride Month, which celebrates the pride that people feel whilst challenging the systemic ableism and discrimination that they face.

Community curation: This is Cody’s story, Trying to ‘Pass’, inspired by this box. Cody grew up in a rural area, but has a complex relationship with whether or not it is their ‘home.’ It is where they grew up, and where their family still lives, but it has not been a place where they’ve felt unconditionally accepted. Cody’s sense of belonging was contingent on behaving in certain ways or for ‘passing’ as ‘normal’ when they were outside their wider family’s homes. Paid employment has not been viable for Cody, and they would be ineligible to receive benefits if they moved in with their partner.

Cody’s formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder brought intense feelings of relief as it has allowed them a way of justifying their situation. Pre-diagnosis, they would say “‘I don’t work’, y’know, which is like ‘ooh what a princess’ type of thing”, which was then qualified with “I’ve got bipolar disorder.”