An Exhibit on the History of Disability & Technology in Canada

Curation, photography, research and design by
Beth A. Robertson, Ph.D.

 Through the experiences of both users and innovators, this virtual exhibit endeavours to tell the stories of the people and technologies that have shaped, and been shaped by, social, cultural and historical understandings of disability, blindness and vision loss in Canada from the nineteenth century to the present. 

Historically, people who were blind or partially sighted have been consistently imagined as not being capable of innovation and unable to live a truly fulfilling life and future. The word 'envisioning', which rhetorically links the ability to see with the ability to imagine future possibilities, is a testament to just how systemic this negative perception is. Yet, as the stories in this exhibit demonstrate, people with disabilities have played key roles in the development, design and user advocacy of technology. To recognize these contributions and challenge negative stereotypes, we have purposefully chosen the title "envisioning technologies" for this exhibit. Through their refusal to be denied the right to contribute to the design and use of certain technologies, people who were blind or partially sighted asserted they were in fact capable of 'envisioning' a future in which they would not be excluded from education, employment or the circulation of information and knowledge more broadly.   

To engage with the various episodes, please refer to the menu at the right of the screen or follow the links below:

The Emergence of Braille Technologies, 1860-1951
James Swail and the National Research Council of Canada, 1947-1985

Roland Garlaneau and the Converto-Braille, 1960-1989

Canadian National Institute for the Blind: Memories, Voices and Technological Futures, 1918-2016

The Talking ATM: Innovation, Access and Human Rights Activism, 1984-2016

Refugees, Disability and Technology in Transnational Postwar Canada, 1946-1953

Created as part of the ongoing work of 
Carleton University's Disability Research Group

Adrian Chan, Department of Systems and Computer Engineering

George Duimovich, MacOdrum Library

Roy Hanes, School of Social Work

Dominique Marshall, Department of History

Sreeraman Rajan, Department of Systems and Computer Engineering

Beth A. Robertson, Department of History

Past and current project administrators:
Ellen Pjawka, Jenn Ko, Britanny Clayton

For more information about our research group and work please refer to our website:

Many thanks to our collaborators and supporters who made this project possible:

Canadian National Institute for the Blind 
Robert Bender
Leona Emberson
Richard Marsolais
Michael Nicholson

Canadian Science and Technology Museum
Bryan Dewalt
Catherine Campbell
Phillip Craig
Tom Everett
Pat Hilborn
David Pantalony
Gordon Perrault
Fiona Smith-Hale

Canadian Urban Libraries Council
Jefferson Gilbert
Maureen Sawa

Carleton University Research Office

Centre for Equitable Library Access

IEEE Foundation & IEEE Canada 

Migration and Diaspora Studies, Carleton University

National Research Council of Canada Library and Archives
Steven Leclair
New Sun Joy MacLaren Adaptive Technology Centre, 
MacOdrum Library
Heather Cross

Recently Added Items

Combined logo representing the Carleton CUDRG collaboration with Liverpool Hope CCDS

Audio/visual recording of seminar by Dr. Claire Penketh, "Art Education and Disability Futurity: Subjects on the Edge", recorded March 27, 2019.