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


Yellow plastic dairy automation device for cattle farming.

Worn around a cow's neck, this device is an ID to connect each cow to its own feed system. This movement tracker is strapped to a cow's leg. The transmitter records the activity and movement of the cow. A decrease is movement could be a sign of ill health. The hollow plastic key contains an electronic RFID device and is stamped 'Calan' and '44'. Made by American Calan. This device was used at the Centre for Dairy Research, at Hall Farm, Arborfield.

This was displayed with a number of other dairy automation devices, 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 Andrew’s story, ‘Dairy Automation’, which is represented in the exhibition by a selection of dairy automation devices. Technological advancement and the automation of the dairy industry allow Andrew to perform nearly every aspect of dairy farming, but they are not a specific adaptation to disability, they are becoming mainstream across many dairy farms. Here, we have an example of such automation: a key which links each cow to its own feed system, a movement tracker to monitor activity and health, and an ear tag which signals the ID of a cow to antennae.