Researching the history of people with disabilities in the DDR

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The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting the scientific investigation of the history of the DDR and the SED injustice for which 14 research projects were selected nationwide. In the next four years, they will receive funding of up to 40 million Euros. The Kiel-Munich collaborative research project "People with disabilities in the DDR" was also selected for funding. The application amounts to a total of around €675,000. Approximately €345,000 of this will go to a research team from Kiel University (CAU).

The existence of people with disabilities, who did not correspond as well with the systemic requirements of the DDR, posed particular challenges to the political system there. They stood in the way of the idea of an active, planned "building up of socialism" in the workers' and peasants' state, as decided during the second party conference of the SED in July 1952. This discrepancy between the right to integration and the at least partially discriminatory reality in the DDR is highlighted in the new joint research project "People with disabilities in the DDR" by Professor Gabriele Lingelbach ("Families with disabled children", Kiel University), Dr habil. Elsbeth Bösl, ("Mobility technology and built environment", Bundeswehr University Munich) and Professor Sebastian Barsch ("Media presentation of disability", Kiel University). In addition, the researchers are developing and creating a digital exhibition and so-called Open Educational Resources (OER), together with the Stiftung Drachensee and the Institute for Inclusive Education (Institut für Inklusive Bildung) in Kiel. OER are educational materials which are published under an open license. They allow free access as well as free use, editing and dissemination by others, without or with only minor restrictions.

"Whereas the history of people with disabilities in the Federal Republic of Germany has been studied scientifically relatively often, the developments in the DDR have rarely been the subject of appropriate research," said a delighted Professor Gabriele Lingelbach about the funding. Thus, the everyday life of people with disabilities in the DDR, for example in the area of organising family life, or the possibilities of using technical assistance with everyday activities, has hardly been investigated. This research gap can now be slowly closed, added her Munich colleague, Dr habil. Elsbeth Bösl.

"In a further sub-project we want to reconstruct media presentation of 'disability' in society," outlined historian Professor Sebastian Barsch. Here too, there are few insights to date. "Thus how disability was reflected in the press, in fiction and audio-visual media in East Germany is largely unknown, and how these representations impacted on the lives of those affected," said Barsch.

It was important for us in this project that people with disabilities in the DDR and their relatives are no longer only perceived as objects of social political action, but as subjects of their history," emphasised Dr Jan-Wulf Schnabel of the Stiftung Drachensee and the Institute for Inclusive Education in Kiel. Therefore, people with disabilities were specifically integrated into the research and its teaching. In this way, newly acquired sources and research results should be added to an existing source platform on the history of people with disabilities, and be prepared for different target groups. In addition, the plan is to make the research results accessible to both the scientific community and the public through conferences and publications.


Prof. Dr. Sebastian Barsch
Didactics in History
Kiel University
Tel.: 0431 / 880-1259