Society’s changing attitudes to disability subject of award-winning exhibition in RCPI

During this year’s National Heritage Week the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland is hosting an award-winning exhibition exploring historical depictions of disabilities in medical literature and contemporary responses from disabled people.

After successful runs at the Royal College of Physicians in London, the University of Leicester and St Pancras Hospital, Re-Framing Disability will be on display in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, 6 Kildare St, Dublin 2 from 20 – 24 August 2012.

The exhibition explores a group of rare portraits from the 17th to the 19th centuries, held by the Royal College of Physicians in London. The portraits depict disabled men and women of all ages and walks of life, many of whom earned a living exhibiting themselves to the public.

Some individuals, such as conjoined ‘Siamese’ twins Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–74), are still famous today. Others, including professional artist Thomas Inglefield (b 1769), who was born without legs or hands, are now forgotten.

The exhibition uncovers the extraordinary hidden histories behind the portraits and looks at their impact today through contemporary responses from disabled people. 27 disabled participants from across the UK were invited to have their photographic portraits taken and be filmed. Their responses form an important part of the exhibition.

Heralded by an international panel of judges as ‘inspired’ and ‘challenging’, Re-framing Disability won an Ability Media International ‘Visual Arts Award’ in 2011.

Dr Paul Darragh, Dun’s Librarian with responsibility for the College’s library and archives collection, said, “We are delighted to welcome this outstanding exhibition to RCPI. For me, the contrast between modern and older attitudes to disability became shockingly clear when I saw some of the earlier depictions of disabled people. The thought-provoking contributions from the 27 individuals who agreed to have their responses recorded are a heartening reminder of how far we’ve come as a society.” 

Professor Desmond O’Neill, Consultant in Geriatric Medicine in Tallaght Hospital and Fellow of RCPI, added, “This exhibition is a highly effective and stimulating way of gaining insights into how attitudes to disability have changed over the centuries, while also allowing us to reflect on how disability is framed in contemporary society. I highly recommended it to all healthcare students, professionals and the general public.” 

Entry to Re-framing Disability is free of charge and will be open to the public at the following times:
Monday 20 August, 10.00am – 4.00pm
Tuesday 21 August, 12.00pm – 8.00pm
Wednesday 22 August, 10.00am – 4.00pm
Thursday 23 August, 10.00am – 4.00pm
Friday 24 August, 10.00am – 4.00pm

There is no need to pre-book, however large groups of 15 or more people are asked to contact the Heritage Centre in RCPI in advance on 01 6698817 or

This project has been supported by Shape and the Wellcome Trust. The exhibition will be on display at the Dublin City Library and Archives from 3 - 28 September 2012. RCPI wishes to thank Dublin City Library and Archives for their part in bringing this ground-breaking project to Ireland.

This exhibition is supported by funding from Dublin City of Science 2012.

This event is part of National Heritage Week.

Also running during National Heritage Week in RCPI…

As part of National Heritage Week, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland will open its historic building at 6 Kildare Street to the public on Tuesday 21 August 2012. This year’s open day theme is Doctors on the Ball: Sports and Medicine in Ireland.

Free of charge and open to all, Doctors on the Ball is a nostalgic exhibition celebrating Irish Medicine’s rich sporting heritage. Photographs, trophies and other rare memorabilia will provide a unique insight into the historical links between sports and medicine in Ireland.