Stephen Dias's passion is collecting. And he wants his large, private collection to be more than just books and documents on a shelf. He wants to share his rare editions, memos, photos and ephemera on the social history of the journey of Americans with disabilities through the centuries with those who probably don't know much about the subject. To that end, Dias and his wife, Patricia Chadwick, have decided to go on the Internet at http://www .disabilityhistory.org/ and open what they call the Disability Social History Project. Eventually the two would like to see a physical home for these items because both strongly believe they're an overlooked part of American history. "Most of the largest collectors of this material are all private and wish to remain so," says Oakland, Calif.-based Dias. "But there are some very large holdings by the American Foundation of the Blind, the Franklin Roosevelt site in Warm Springs, Georgia, and the March of Dimes organization. We wanted something the average person could see and learn from and we felt that for right now, this was the best way to do it." The project combines Dias's love of rare books and his background in library sciences. A former library administrator for the California Medical Association, Dias knew how to have valued, catalogue and display what he had spent nearly 25 years collecting. Dias got involved with disability civil rights in the 1970s with contacts at the Center for Independent Living at Berkeley. As a student at Sonoma State College in Rohnert Park, Calif., he and a friend helped start that college's Disability Resource Center in 1977, an advocacy and assistance center, which has now seen hundreds of students with disabilities pass through its offices. Dias also has vivid memories of the so-called "Berkeley 504 sit-ins," where people with disabilities protested the inaccessibilty of federal buildings and federally supported programs. Eventually, those protests gave way to the federal Rehabilitation Act (part of which is called Section 504), which guarantees people with disabilities equal access to all federal programs and activities. "That really got me into the politics and the history, those sit-ins," he says. "So about a year ago, with my background, we decided to combine all those loves and the result was a history Internet site where people could see real documents that pertained to the lives of people with disabilities from a wide period of time in the United States. "We have also just got a $25,000 grant from the San Francisco Foundation to do what we're calling a Disability Living History Project. The Web site will be part of this, but we're also going to go out to independent living centers around California to collect items and personal histories about disability." Dias owns more than 500 rare and valuable books, as well as items concerning disability history, including a commemorative folio from Helen Keller's college graduation. He also has books on people living with blindness dating from the 1870s. "And then I have one piece of what's called mendicant literature," he explains. "That appeared mostly in the 19th century. These are the written autobiographies or small poems written by Civil War veterans who were disabled in action and then handed out by these vets. I also have three photos circa 1820 of people with disabilities including a child using a crutch." Dias also believes the history of devices that assist the disabled is important. He has a wicker wheelchair from around the early 1900s. "One of our purposes was to let people know this history exists, but it's not well documented," he says. "We're also in the process of soliciting material, photos and items from private individuals and organizations who want the history of their particular disability catalogued." In doing research, Dias learned the very real importance of all this. "Most people don't know, for example, about what was called the T-4 Program early on from during Hitler's Germany. That was the code name given to eliminate those with disabilities, and during the Holocaust, people with disabilities were among the first to be killed. "So we need to both learn about and save this history. It is a separate social history, and as a society, we still don't seem to value it very much. Hopefully, this will start to change that."