Tom Olin

Some of the images are available online through a retrospective hosted on the New Mobility website. The images deal firstly with activism, in particular the 1990s campaigns around Capitol Hill, where people in wheelchairs climbed the steps or chained themselves to objects of oppression such as revolving doors:

These images are in the ‘serious’ documentary style, grainy and high contrast. Although the use of such images that reinforce stereotypes of disabled people’s courage and tug at public sympathy has been questioned (Shapiro, in Nelson, 1994, p 66). Tom Olin has documented the disability rights movement since the 1980s, and his archive is second to none. Besides raising awareness in mainstream media, Olin’s motivation today is toward helping young people understand the struggles that people with disabilities have faced in their quest for full integration and civil rights.

Once the ADA was passed in the US, things began to change, and the photography becomes brighter and more positive; Capitol Hill is now accessible by lift, and there are doors accessible to disabled persons installed in the city:

The message is clear – the ADA has been a milestone achievement in empowering disabled persons, but there is still a long way to go. It is interesting to note that many of the photographers involved in the project are disabled photographers themselves. I have chosen a couple to look at in more detail.

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