Bringing disability history alive in schools: promoting a new understanding of disability through performance methods

Sonali Shah, Mick Wallis, Fiona Conor, Phillip Kiszely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The transfer of disability history research to new generation audiences is crucial to allow lessons from the past to impact the future inclusion and equality agenda. As today’s children are the policy makers and the legislators of tomorrow, it is important for them to have opportunities to engage with disability life story narratives to understand personal experiences of disability and the social systems that influenced their construction through time and space. Through the embodiment and manipulation of these powerful narratives, children have the opportunity to challenge traditional perspectives of disability that may be disabling and oppressive. Such materials contribute to the making of an inclusive society by enabling children to craft mechanisms of intervention that can used to build resilience and resistance to barriers, and thereby generate social change. This paper examines how performance techniques can be used as a pedagogical tool to transpose new understandings of disability history and culture to school-based audiences. It builds on two previous projects: one focusing on life history narratives of three generations of disabled people, and the other exploring the potential for text-based disability narratives to move beyond text in interesting and creative ways. In so doing, this paper reports on a cross-disciplinary project which brought together academics (from performance and social science backgrounds), three performing arts secondary schools and disabled theatre performers. It presents qualitative evidence of how performance workshops delivered in three schools, by disabled performers, and stimulated by disability life history research, has the potential to increase disability awareness in the mainstream classroom and challenge negative disability stereotypes that influence how disabled people are made known in society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-286
Number of pages20
JournalResearch Papers in Education
Issue number3
Early online date27 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • performance methods
  • disability
  • young people
  • curriculum
  • schools


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