My Interview for “Collectors’ Weekly” on Disability in the 19th Century

In case you missed it, this past July Collectors’ Weekly writer Lisa Hix interviewed me and Karen Bourrier for her essay, “Healing Spas and Ugly Clubs: How Victorians Taught us to Treat People with Disabilities.” It a great piece, so do check it out! Below is an extract from my interview.

Ear trumpets were among the myriad inventions that came out of the persistent belief that, even with the help of political or social institutions, it was the disabled individual’s responsibility to strive to become more “normal.”

“Having lost my hearing at age 4 following a serious bout of meningitis, my childhood was marked by my family’s attempts to cure my hearing loss,” Virdi-Dhesi says of growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s. “I recall the painful scent of burning chili peppers as a move to ward off the ‘evil eye,’ scores of visits to the temple for blessings, the chafing of copper bracelets possessing powers to extract the ‘disease.’ Among these attempts were visits to the ENT clinic, feelings of failure following hearing tests, the weight of hearing aids, and special speech lessons. Reading 19th-century medical case studies of all the attempts invoked to ‘cure’ a person of their hearing loss resonated through the passages of time and connects with me. I can sympathize with the patients, but I also understand the need for a ‘cure’ that was so tirelessly advocated by medical practitioners.”

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