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Conference Abstract: Transformative technology and disabled bodies in Post-WWII Australia

March 20, 2013


The AHA Conference is coming again, this year in Woolongong, followed by a THATCamp on Saturday! Conference website : #OzHA2013. As usual, I’ll be presenting a paper. This year’s conveners gave us the added challenge of  producing a title with less than 10 words, and an abstract summary of less than 30.

Summarized Abstract:

Focusing on non-government organisations, I examine how the practice of civilian rehabilitation transformed Australians’ understanding of citizenship, work, and economic participation in the post-War period.


From the late 1940s, occupational therapists and social workers from a network of non-government organisations began applying rehabilitation techniques developed for disabled veterans to Australia’s civilian population. These rehabilitative schemes promised to provide economic participation and civic engagement to citizens formerly “thrown on the human scrap-heap”.

In this paper I examine how the promotion and practice of civilian rehabilitation transformed Australians’ understanding of citizenship, work, and economic participation during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Situating the schemes in the post-War climate of technological innovation, mass production and consumerism, I follow campaigns including the New South Wales’ Spastic Centre’s project to produce electronic wheelchairs at their Allambie Heights Sheltered Workshop (“Magic chariots, wheels that can take you anywhere at the touch of an electronically controlled joystick”), and the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association’s funding drive for a Medical Rehabilitation out-service at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (it could provide “wheelchair homes for disabled housewives”).


Dave Earl is a PhD candidate at Sydney University. He has taught and published on the history of disability, mental health, medical rehabilitation, childhood and the family.

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