The purpose of the Documenting Disability History Project is to explore the history of the Disability Rights and Independent Living movements in Northern California’s rural communities, specifically in Nevada County and the surrounding region. Using the methodology of oral history, project staff and volunteers have conducted and transcribed interviews with activists, community and agency leaders, and other stakeholders who have helped to shape the local movement.
The project began in May of 2007 as a partnership between Heather Heckler and FREED Center for Independent Living, and was funded, in part, by Cal Humanities.
Heather Heckler grew up in Nevada County, California and is now an independent scholar based in Nevada City. She earned her M.A. in U.S. history and public history from American University in Washington, D.C. and holds an A.B. in history from the University of California at Davis. Ms. Heckler’s interest in the history of the Disability Rights Movement stems, in part, from her time at FREED Center for Independent Living, where she worked as a community organizer, advocating for change in policies and legislation that negatively impact people with disabilities.
Dr. Paul Longmore, Humanities Expert
Dr. Paul K. Longmore, who passed away unexpectedly in 2010, was an important early advisor to the project. Dr. Longmore was Professor of History and Director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, specializing in early American history and the history of people with disabilities. He earned his Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate School and his B.A. and M.A. at Occidental College. Longmore’s book The Invention of George Washington (University of California Press, 1988; pb. University Press of Virginia, 1998) has been described by the distinguished historian Edmund S. Morgan as “probably the best account” of Washington’s early career. Meanwhile, Stanley Kutler, former editor of the journal Reviews in American History, praised as “pioneering” Longmore’s call in the mid-1980s for historians to examine the history of disability. In 2004 in that same journal, a review of Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability (Temple University Press, 2003), declared, “Probably more than anyone, Longmore has been responsible for bringing disability studies to the field of history.” With Lauri Umansky, Dr. Longmore co-edited The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press, 2001), an anthology of essays, and was co-editor of the book series The History of Disability, for NYU Press.
As a humanities expert, Dr. Longmore advised the project director on the direction of research, assisted in the development of exhibition themes, and provided scholarly support. For more information about Dr. Longmore, see the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability website.
Ann Guerra, Project Adviser and Humanities Expert
Ann Guerra, executive director of the Nevada-Sierra Regional In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority began her career in the disability field in 1987 as a volunteer at FREED Center for Independent Living, where she put her interest in civil rights and disability pride to use in her community. She became FREED’s Executive Director in 2001 and left to head the IHSS Public Authority in 2008. Ms. Guerra is a former chair of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and the Nevada County Transit Services Commission. The emphasis of her work is on implementation and protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act and promoting independent living philosophy.
Ms. Guerra advises the project director on project planning and implementation, provides knowledge of the people, organizations, and events associated with the disability rights movement in Nevada County and the surrounding areas, assists in the development of questions sets and exhibition themes, and helps to identify and contact potential interviewees.
FREED Center for Independent Living
Established in Grass Valley in 1985, FREED Center for Independent Living is a non-profit consumer-operated organization that provides services to people with disabilities and their families. FREED’s core philosophy is that independence comes from having self-direction and choice in one’s life. FREED serves Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Sutter and Colusa Counties.
The majority of FREED’s staff and board of directors are people with disabilities. FREED’s mission is “to eliminate barriers to full equality through programs which promote independent living and effect systems change while honoring dignity and self determination.” FREED’s services include personal and systems advocacy, peer support, personal assistant referral, housing referral, computers and internet access, wheelchair and equipment recycling, and a home repair and modification program. FREED also provides information and referrals regarding disability programs, services, and equipment.
FREED was the fiscal sponsor of the Documenting Disability History Project and provided staff time, administrative support, and supplies as needed. For more information about FREED, see their webpage at www.freed.org.
This project was made possible, in part, by a grant from Cal Humanities (formerly California Council for the Humanities) as part of their statewide California Stories Initiative. Cal Humanities is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information on Cal Humanities, visit www.calhum.org.