Beyond Affliction: The Project
The Project

Radio Project History Radio Producers Bios
Web Credits Advisory Board
Picture Source Credits Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc.

Tapes and transcripts for the radio documentary series Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project can be ordered by calling (303) 823-8000.


Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project began when Producer Laurie Block found herself asking questions about how popular culture attitudes about disability came to be, how they have changed, and what kinds of consequences they had for people with disabilities and their families.

Even though the life that a person with a disabling condition can look forward to today is very often, though certainly not always, radically different from what it might have been just 20 years ago, there has been little intergenerational discussion about the experience of having a disability. Disability history has not been widely studied, it's a relatively new field--although there is a substantial medical history literature related to important aspects of the disability experience.

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 extended to people with disabilities the civil-rights protections which have been extended to blacks, women, and minorities. It opened a broad front of new possibilities for people with disabilities, though--like other major civil rights legislation --it will take many years for the consequences to reveal themselves. This modern disability rights movement has also inspired a community to reconsider its own past.

In the four programs of the on-air radio series, Block takes the listener on a personal journey as she searches for the shared experience of people with disabilities and their families.

This site contains many primary source documents--images and texts--that she encountered as she sought answers to the projects original proposition--how have popular culture attitudes about disability come to be.

The site is by no means a comprehensive history resource. It aims to introduce web browsers to sources, evidence, materials, and ideas that allow all of us to begin thinking anew about what the experience of disability means today and has meant to the generations that have come before.

Unless indicated otherwise, the material in this site has been assembled and texts have been written by the staff of Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc. (SAP) with the help of its project advisory board.

The work on this project has been done over a period of several years. Initial research and development funds came from several state humanities councils including: the New York Council for the Humanities, the California Humanities Council, the Connecticut Humanities Council and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, as well as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Outreach development funds came from The Boston Globe Foundation.

All phases of the project, including the website, have been supported by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. Radio production and website construction was generously supported by AT&T 'It's All Within Your Reach.' The website has received additional support from Ken and Lucy Lehman of the New Prospect Foundation.

In 1996, Producer Laurie Block joined with Producer Jay Allison to make the four programs in the on-air radio series. In this work, they were also joined by Block's longtime partner at Straight Ahead Pictures' Inc., John Crowley.


Series producer and host Laurie Block, an award-winning filmmaker and director/producer of the feature documentary FIT: Episodes in the History of the Body, has been writing and researching historical documentaries since 1980 for PBS, HBO, National Geographic, and numerous independent film makers. Block also co-directs a partnership between local history museums, public schools, and her company-- Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc.-- that is developing a curriculum website to teach media literacy through history.

Jay Allison, one of public radio's leading independent producers, has won most of the major awards in broadcasting including the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award and the Peabody Award. His work is heard on All Things Considered, This American Life and other national and international programs. Allison also reports, shoots, and produces Specials for ABC News Nightline.

John Crowley has been a documentary film and television writer for nearly thirty years. Films he has written have been selected for major film festivals and have won numerous awards. He has specialized in the archival documentary, writing films on the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 1939 World's Fair, the Depression, the 1950s bomb-shelter hysteria, and (with Laurie Block) fitness in America --among many other topics. He is also a respected novelist, winning the American Academy and Institute Award for Literature and the World Fantasy Award (twice). He teaches writing at Yale University.


Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc.
Laurie Block - Project Director
John Crowley
Stephen Bromage
Neil Flynn
Susan Orlosky
Spencer Weisbroth

Center for Computer - Based Instructional Technology

Beth Terhune
David Hart
David "Goose" Gosselin
Erik Haugsjaa
Marci Langevin
Paul Hudson

Right Angle, Inc.
Kelly Meeks, consultant

A. Piccolo Graphics
Andrea Piccolo
Stephanie Owen


Over several years Straight Ahead Pictures has enlisted the help of scholarly and community advisors. All have helped shape the historical vision of Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project.

DR. ADRIENNE ASCH, Henry R. Luce Professor of Biology, Ethics and the Politics of Human Reproduction at Wellesley College. An active member of the disability rights movement and a bio-ethicist, much of Professor Asch's recent work has involved the ethical implications of genetic screening and pre- and neo-natal testing and care.

DR. DOUGLAS BAYNTON, Assistant Professor, University of Iowa, with a joint appointment to the Department of History and the American Sign Language Program, University of Iowa, has written extensively on the history of the deaf in the U.S. His newest book is Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language, 1996.

DR. EDWARD D. BERKOWITZ, Professor of History and Public Policy at George Washington University, has to date published eight books on disability and U.S. public policy, including America's Welfare State: From Roosevelt to Reagan.

DR. ROBERT BOGDAN, Professor of Social Sciences at Syracuse University, has spent considerable time analyzing cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities. He is the author of several books, including Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit.

HUGH GREGORY GALLAGHER, a consultant for the Library of Congress and the United States Holocaust Museum, conceived and drafted the language of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. He is the author of FDR's Splendid Deception.

DR. NORA ELLEN GROCE, Assistant Professor, Yale School of Public Health, is the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard.

DR. ALAN GUTTMACHER, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and Director of the Vermont Regional Genetics Center, is a clinical geneticist whose work, on a daily basis, brings him in contact with the variety of ethical attitudes to, historical misconceptions about, and new social possibilities available for people with disabilities and people related to individuals with disabilities.

DR. PETER DOBKIN HALL is Director of the Program on Non-Profit Organizations, Institution for Social & Policy Studies, Yale University, where he directs the Project on the Changing Dimensions of Trusteeship (funded by the Lilly Endowment) and the Project on the History of Philanthropy and Volunteerism.

DR. PAUL LONGMORE, Assistant Professor of History, San Francisco State University, has written widely on the history of disability, ethical issues in medicine and law relating to disability, and the portrayal of disability in media.

DR. MARTHA MINOW, Professor Harvard Law School, is a distinguished scholar of legal issues related to children, the family, gender and difference. Her 1990 book Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law provides the reader with a broad understanding of the history of legal ideas about difference--human and cultural.

DR. MARTIN PERNICK, Professor of History, University of Michigan, is the author of several books on the history of medicine in the US, including The Black Stork: Eugenics, Motion Pictures, and Medical Refusal to Treat Impaired Newborns in Progressive-Era America. His next work, Bringing Medicine to the Masses: Motion Pictures and the Revolution in Public Health, focuses on how motion pictures revolutionized dissemination of public health information during the first third of this century.

MARSHA SAXTON works for the World Institute on Disability, Berkeley, CA. She has written and lectured widely on the varied experiences of people with disabilities and their families, with a focus on those issues involving women and reproduction.

DR. RICHARD K. SCOTCH is Associate Professor of Sociology and Political Economy at the School of Social Sciences, the University of Texas, Dallas. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Disability Studies and a Fellow of the International Exchange of Experts and Information in Rehabilitation. He is the author of From Good Will to Civil Rights.

JOHN VAN CLEVE is a professor of history at Gallaudet University, and the Director of Gallaudet University Press. He is the author of a Place of Their Own, a history of the American deaf community.

Two key project advisors--IRVING ZOLA, founder of the Society of Disability Studies (SDS) and Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University, and ED ROBERTS, co-founder of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and the World Institute On Disability--have recently died, but their contributions to this project continue.



Images Provided by:

The 504 Anniversary Committee
John E. Allen
The American Antiquarian Society
American Foundation for the Blind
The ARC of the United States
Boeing Corporation Archives
The Robert Bogdan Collection
Connecticut Historical Society
Elyria, Ohio Rotary Club
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library
Gallaudet University Archives
Kansas Historical Society
Library of Congress
National Archives
National Easter Seal Society
National Library of Medicine
National Museum of Health and Medicine
Shomberg Collection, New York Public Library
Syracuse University Library
Yale University Library


Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc. (SAP) is a media production company that does consulting, researching, writing, and production for broadcast, the Internet, museums, schools, and corporations. We specialize in historical documentaries, and have wide-ranging expertise in archival research--film, television, radio, print, and photographic archives, private and public media collections, and government repositories. This includes the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, the American Antiquarian Society and many lesser-known collections.


In collaboration with a small Massachusetts museum--the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, a rural school district, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, SAP is currently engaged in a multi-year project to develop a media literacy curriculum for K-12 students that is based on the historical evolution of today's media culture. Helping students and teachers use the Internet to access historical materials is a major project goal.

SAP's media work has been funded by many state humanities and arts councils, as well as the National Foundation for the Humanities, the MacArthur Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AT&T, and many state humanities councils.

Straight Ahead Pictures, Inc. is a 501-C-3 corporation, established in 1989.

SAP not only develops its own projects but also contributes to the work of others. Our staff has worked as writers and researchers for the National Geographic film division, PBS (The American Experience, Frontline), WNET-TV, WGBH-TV, and many independent producers. These projects have won awards ranging from Academy Award nominations to selection by major international film and media festivals.

Whether finding materials for a museum installation, searching for images for Nike, writing narration for an educational film on the Great Depression or a Learning Channel series on the American West, the company is dedicated to developing creative projects that make America's deep and little known film and audio archives accessible and relevant to the general public, media professionals, and scholars.