In discussion with Disability rights pioneer Lorraine Gradwell, MBE

November 30, 2015 by richard

by Gemma on November 22, 2015 in Activism, Austerity, Community Care, Cuts, Disability, DPAC, Lorraine Gradwell, Rights, UKDHM • 0 Comments

As today marks the start of UKDHM (UK Disability History Month from 22 November to 22 December), I sum up and reflect on my interview with Lorraine Gradwell, MBE. Known to many as a leading disability rights ‘veteran campaigner’, she has worked within the disabled people’s movement for over 35 years.

Lorraine, now in her 60s, came to disability politics through her involvement in paraplegic sports – particularly the Manchester Disabled Athletes club in the 1980s. It was here that she met the highly influential disabled activist, Neville Strowger. She and Neville became close friends and, with others, worked together to set up GMCDP (Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People) – one of the first organisations of disabled people in the UK. In its heyday, GMCDP was instrumental in creating positive change for disabled people both in Manchester and throughout the UK. Lorraine was their Deputy chair, then Chair, then development worker and eventually their first team leader in 1987. She was later CEO of Breakthrough UK (1997 – 2013). Though now semi-retired Lorraine is a Member of the co-production group at Coalition for Collaborative Care.
Trailblazers and Cabbies…
In her role as GMCDP’s team leader, Lorraine campaigned around a number of issues – the Disability Discrimination Act, the role of big charities, independent living and accessible transport. She also helped to set up the Equalities Unit in Manchester City Council.
Lorraine and her team’s lobbying made Manchester the first city with Black Cabs that were accessible to disabled people. Campaingers persuaded Manchester City Council that one hundred new licenses were to be issued to Black Cab licenses on the condition that the cabs were made accessible.

“We used to get cab drivers coming in and talking to us about the campaign, adaptations of the cabs and so on which led to work being done. Some cab drivers got the new licenses but didn’t make the cabs accessible which ended up going to the appeal court in London to uphold Manchester’s stipulation – Manchester was a real trailblazer in that respect”.
She also worked with Greater Manchester Housing Disability Group and the academic June Maeltzer, to set up the first informal independent living scheme. June worked with the Irwell Family Housing Association to get an agreement that the funding for ‘local authority carers’ would go into a trust that was managed jointly between her and the Irwell HA. At that time, it wasn’t legal for a local authority to give funding directly to an individual, whether they were disabled or not. June was one of the first users of direct payments – before the legislation was even in place.
With pioneers like Lorraine, Neville and June, Manchester was building a strong reputation as good place to live if you were a young disabled activist.
These initiatives certainly influenced my decision to move to Manchester in the mid 1990s.
The current climate…
Lorraine and I discussed the contrast between the ‘rights based’ campaigning of last twenty years, and the current ‘benefits based’ campaigning. We also discussed the idiosyncrasies of Manchester’s current independent living policies and the alarming shrinkage of the public sector both locally and nationally.
Lorraine can see why campaigns around benefits and austerity are needed, but feels they need to focus more on societal structures, rather than disabled peoples perceived vulnerabilities. She doesn’t think that it’s helpful for a movement to be making their ‘vulnerability’ a central plank of their campaign – it’s better to talk about our fundamental rights and the need for those to be addressed. For me this has a particular resonance as my current photography project, Hanging in the Balance, is about being made vulnerable due to the current austerity measures. – in this context is it OK to embrace and focus on our vulnerability?
Like me, she welcomes the push that DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) have made towards getting a UN investigation into the governments sanctions. She says, “All the rights based issues have gone on the back burner a bit … six, seven years ago it was very much about rights …it was about inclusion, barrier free work, independent living, etc. All that has gone by the wayside in just a short period of time, and it alarms me how quickly it can get unrolled.”
In the area of employment, for example, she says the perceptions around disabled people have taken a massive turn for the worst. During her role as Chief Executive of Breakthrough she sat on the Disability Employment Advisory Committee – a government body that focused on matters to do with disability and employment. The ConDem Coalition immediately disbanded those types of committees, with no real replacement. This represented a change in ideology, and the shrinking of the public sector – which has had a massive knock on effect on disabled peoples’ organisations.
Lorraine points out that Breakthrough’s ethos was very much around providing the support to disabled people who could work, not about forcing ill people into work. The current government doesn’t seem to understand the relationship between being disabled and work. She feels that the way disabled people get portrayed as being either a burden or a scrounger is nothing more than a big scapegoating exercise.
This, she feels, is very dangerous particularly alongside the whole push towards assisted suicide and the creeping privatization of the NHS. Assisted suicide fundamentally changes the relationship between doctor and patient overturning two thousand years of the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm. She recalls reading about a woman in Oregon being refused cancer treatment by her insurance company because it was expensive, but they said she could have assisted suicide because that was cheaper. A health service driven by financial decisions and what would be cheaper is not about helping people at all. Here I would argue we must have the right to live, before we have the right to die.
“It’s not being sensationalist to describe it as state sanctioned killing, and once you’ve got state sanctioned killing, where’s it going to go? In Belgium assisted suicide applies to children. There’s no stopping it once it’s on the statute books.”
Keeping disability rights on the agenda…
From NHS provided health to access to work schemes, disabled people are once again fighting at the front line. Though the recent cuts may have had a direct impact on the capacity of both Breakthrough UK and GMCDP, they both continue to campaign, and provide much needed support for disabled people. I am aware of criticisms levelled at veteran campaigners from younger disability rights activists, but perhaps rather than blaming them for perceived failings within their campaigns, we should champion them for their drive and continued commitment to ongoing change and to keeping discussions about disability rights on the political agenda.

Lorraine Gradwell’s book of collected works ‘A Life Raft in a Stormy Sea’ is available to purchase online.

Disability Thinking Tree

November 27, 2015 by admin

For Disability history month, The Youth Forum have created a Disability Thinking Tree which will include images and poems about disabilities. The poems were all created by the youth forum members to represent how they feel and how they would like people to see them.

for more information contact: Youth Forum  @ 01508 491210

18th December to 22nd December

Norwich Millennium Library

The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich, Norfolk NR2 1AW

Richard Rieser on Disability Portrayal

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16th December 12,30-1.30 PCS meeting
Richard Rieser on Disability Portrayal: Now and Then
Churchill Room,100, Parliament Street,London SW1
Off Parliament Square

Launch of ‘History of Place’

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December 10th Bristol M-Shed

Launch of groundbreaking disability history project – History of Place

Screen South is delighted to announce the launch of the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Accentuate project; History of Place.  As part of Disability History Month, Accentuate, M Shed and UWE Regional History Centre, have joined forces to create an event which celebrates the launch of this groundbreaking disability history project, as well as explore the little known history of one of Bristol’s historic buildings, The Guild of the Brave Poor Things. The launch event will take place at M Shed, Bristol on 10th December 6 – 7.30pm.  Accentuate will introduce the History of Place project and this will be followed by a talk by Dr Mike Mantin “A Great Army of Suffering Ones”.

Film Screening: ‘Marvellous’

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Friday 11 December, 17:30 with film starting at 18:00, Student Union, City Campus, Leeds Beckett University, details here
Join us to watch the 90 minute 2014 film starring Toby Jones about the remarkable life of the much loved Neil Baldwin, a former clown, kit-man and honorary graduate of Keele University, followed by a discussion. This event is free and open to all.

Comedy Performance – Laurence Clark

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Wednesday 9 December, 18:30-20:00, Maurice Keyworth Lecture Theatre, Business School, University of Leeds, book here

A performance from comedian, actor, disability rights campaigner and alumni of the University of Leeds postgraduate Disability Studies programme Laurence Clark, who uses his productions and routines to challenge the general public’s conceptions of disabled people. This event is free to participants and is funded by the University of Leeds’ School of Law, Centre for Disability Studies and Equality and Policy Unit.

Disability and the Equality Act 2010: Seminar

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Disability and the Equality Act 2010: Removing Barriers to Equality and Human Rights Implementation?’ A Caroline Gooding Memorial Seminar

Friday 4 December, 14:00-17:00, Moot Court Room, School of Law, University of Leeds, book here

Twenty years after the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it is becoming clear that legal aid and other reforms in England and Wales are having a significant impact on the enforcement of disability equality rights (now contained in the Equality Act 2010). This half-day seminar focuses on the nature and extent of this impact and provides a space for reflection about how disability equality law might be harnessed to contribute to driving the social change for which it was introduced.

An Evening with David Hevey

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Mon, 7 Dec 2015 at 18:00
An Evening with David Hevey

Lecture Theatre B, Rose Bowl, Leeds, United Kingdom

As part of the celebrations of UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) acclaimed journalist, filmmaker and photographer David Hevey joins us to talk about his new projects and discuss representations of disability in the media.  The evening will start with refreshments and networking, followed by the talk and then a lively Q&A Session. David will then announce the winner of our UKHDM photography competition. For more details on the competition please visit

Film Screening: ‘Yo Tambien’

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3rd December NUIT London Region 17:30

Film Showing Yo Tambien (Me Too) followed by discussion
NUT Mander Hall, 3 Mabledon Place London WC1H 9BD (opposite British Library).
Richard Rieser says “probably the best film made so far featuring disabled people”

Film Screening: ‘Lives Worth Living’

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Wednesday 2 December, 19:00, Leeds University Union, Level 2, Room 1
“Lives Worth Living” traces the development of political consciousness of US-American disability rights pioneers who realized that in order to change the world they needed to work together. Through demonstrations and inside legislative battles, the disability rights community secured equal civil rights for all disabled people in the USA. We will be screening the film and it will be followed by a brief discussion. This event is free and open to all.