A man in a wheelchair sitting outside the Red Lion Hotel, Merchantgate, York, 1930s

Our archives currently contain a relatively small amount of material relating to the experiences of people living with varying disabilities, and their families, in the York area. We are looking to expand our collections, to provide a more representative account of York’s citizens, past and present. If you are aware of any organisations or individuals who hold archives that might interest us, or you feel that you might be able to support us in this work, please contact us. You can find more information about what we currently hold in the ‘Our Key Collections’ section below.

We recognise, though, that some archive collections are best kept in local communities rather than in an archives service, as they support the creation of a sense of place and community identity. If you are looking for advice on how to create your own archive, or how to preserve what you currently have for future generations, please have a look at our advice for community groups or get in touch. We’ll be happy to support in any way we can.

If you are interested in researching Disability History in the UK, the best place to start is with The National Archives (UK) research guide to Disability History. This guide covers all types of sensory or physical impairment, including chronic health conditions and the long-term effects of war wounds. It also covers deafness and blindness, as these have historically been treated as disabilities. It is important to note that most records held at The National Archives do not refer to disabled individuals by name, but do give good information about government policies and services.

Please also be aware that many of the terms required to search archive collections successfully are now deemed offensive, but they were in common use at the time.

Our key collections

The following are some of the key collections we hold relating to disability history in its widest sense. This list is not exhaustive, and additional information may also be found in our ephemera collection. You can find more information on how best to search our catalogue on our Getting started page.

Please be aware that collections which are less than 100 years old and contain personal information relating to potentially living individuals are covered by the Data Protection Act 2018. These collections are identified on our catalogue by the access conditions ‘Restricted Access’ and can currently only be viewed in particular circumstances. For more information and to discuss your research requirements please contact us.

For accuracy we have retained the original legal names of historic organisations and committees. We do not agree with the everyday use of labels which are now seen as deeply offensive.

  • City of York Council Health Department: Mental Deficiency records, 1830s-1960s [Reference: Y/HEA/6]

  • City of York Council: Blind Persons Act Committee [Public Assistance], 1938-1948 [Reference: Y/COU/5/10/10]

  • City of York Council: Blind Persons Sub-Committee [Public Assistance] minutes, 1930-1938 [Reference: Y/COU/5/10/7]

  • City of York Council: Mental Deficiency Committee minutes, 1914-1948 [Reference: Y/COU/5/6/4]

  • City of York Council: Welfare Committee minutes, 1948-1970 [Reference: Y/COU/5/10/8]
  • City of York Council: Welfare Correspondence, Town Clerk’s Office, 1940s-1970s [Reference: Y/SOC/1/1]
  • York Poor Law Union Application and Report Books, City and Rural Districts, 1837-1906 (with gaps) [Reference: PLU/3/1/1]. These volumes contain information on everyone applying for Out-Relief in the York Poor Law Union area, including people with a range of disabilities.
  • Invalid Children’s Aid Association, 1980-1989 [Reference: ICA]
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society, York Group, 1957-2003 [Reference: SCE]
  • Royal British Legion, 1914-1971 [Reference: RBL]
  • York & District Autistic Society, 1987-1992 [Reference: AUT]
  • York & District Spastics Society, 1957-1988 [Reference: SPA]
  • York Association for the Disabled, 1964-1974 [Reference: YAD]
  • York Blind and Partially Sighted Society, 2009-2013 [Reference: BPS]
  • Yorkshire Association for Mental Welfare, c.1916-1946 [Reference: YAM]

Other resources

The University of York’s Borthwick Institute website includes a guide to researching Disability History in their records.

UK Disability History Month runs from November to December each year. You can find out more about them, and the annual campaigns, on their website.

A number of books have been written on aspects of disability history and are widely available, including a series of books published by Manchester University Press.

The Open University website includes a timeline for learning more about disability history.