Why disability history matters

November 12, 2015 by admin

An article by Simon Jarrett.


It is Disability History Month, and some people with disabilities might be forgiven for asking ‘Who cares? As hard-won rights and benefits come under unprecedented challenge from austerity measures, the disabled community faces many battles.

Yet history is not as irrelevant as it may first appear. To understand where you are, it is often very helpful to know where you have come from. A sense of history, a reclaiming of the past, has been essential in many struggles for recognition and acceptance. The present has an unnerving habit of obliterating from memory those it wishes to remain invisible, or at the bottom of the pile. Claiming an historical identity, rejecting that invisibility, was an important part of the women’s liberation movement, gay rights campaigns and movements against colonial and racial oppression. It is now playing a similar role in the disability equality movement.

Disability history is often called a hidden history. It is nothing of the sort. People with disabilities gaze out from the past all the time. However, society tends to gaze back straight past them without noticing – a phenomenon which many people with disabilities may recognise.

In the middle ages thousands were disabled by the scourge of leprosy. Alongside them lived many more thousands of ‘creples’ ‘blynde’ and ‘deaff’, either disabled from birth or though accident or illness. There were constant debates about what this meant. Was it a punishment from God for sin, or did suffering on earth mean that people with disabilities were closer to God than the rest, and therefore superior? Some were cared for by monks and nuns, the small beginnings of hospital-type provision, but most lived in, and were very much a part of, their families and communities.  The eighteenth century saw the building of the first great hospitals which cared for some ‘maimed’ war veterans and those who were both destitute and disabled.

Yet it was not until the nineteenth century that institutional provision came to be seen as the norm for those deemed disabled, with a massive building programme of segregated asylums, workhouses and other institutions. For the first time the life of the disabled person was framed as a life best lived away from communities and families, under medical supervision. Disabled people were no longer 

understood as people who lived and worked, (yes, worked), in society. The great wars of the twentieth century massively increased disability levels, bringing about radical advances in assistive technologies, rehabilitation, mobility, environmental adaptations and public attitudes. After the Second World War disability rights campaigns, some led by war veterans, led eventually to the demise of long stay institutional care and the ‘new’ idea of care in the community.

So why does this matter? It matters because we need to understand that today’s ‘correct thinking’ about disability is just as much a function of contemporary beliefs and opinions as were ideas of sin and holiness in the middle ages. Professionals should understand that the idea of care in the community is not a new idea they have dreamed up – it is exclusion that has been the historical exception. The asylum movement only occupied 140 years of a thousand years of history. For as long as society has existed, people with disabilities have been a part of it, shaping and influencing, just as society has shaped and influenced their lives. To understand that, in schools, in workplaces and in government, is to begin to understand that exclusion is not inevitable, inclusion is not some vague theoretical aspiration.

Disability history is also riveting history. Disability History Month takes place from 22 November to 22 December 2015. Get along to a Disability History Month event if you can.Click here for more information.

Simon Jarrett is arts editor of Community Living magazine and is researching the history of ‘idiocy’, with a Wellcome Trust scholarship, at Birkbeck, University of London.He is the author of Disability in Time and Place, an Historic England web resource. Illustrations in this article are reproduced with permission from Historic England.  

Simon will be speaking at a Disability History Month event ‘Disability and impairment: a technological fix’ at London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 27 November, where he will be talking about impairment and mobility in the 18thcentury. 

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: The campaign for civil rights

November 6, 2015 by admin

From Scope:

November 2015 marks the twentieth anniversary since the Disability Discrimination Act became law in Britain. The law improved the lives of many disabled people and put anti-discrimination law on the statute book for disabled people.

However, it was the civil rights campaigners and activists who fought tirelessly to change the law that made this a remarkable moment in disability history.

We are marking this anniversary with a whole host of content on our website. Visit http://goo.gl/dpKjND to find out more.

Photos courtesy of Baroness Campbell and Rachel Hurst.

Archive footage courtesy of ITN.

See  http://dpac.uk.net/2015/11/the-falsification-of-history-the-twenty-year-burial-of-the-civil-rights-bill/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+uk%2FBHMU+%28DPAC%29  For an activist view that puts this celebration in A VRY DIFFERENT LIGHT.

What not to do #EndTheAwkward

by admin

In this series of online film shorts for Scope’s #EndTheAwkward campaign, presenter and Scope Ambassador Alex Brooker reacts to hidden camera set-ups exposing how awkward we are around disability. This film was produced in partnership with Channel 4.

Scope End the Awkward Campaign

by admin

At Scope we have a vision of a world where disabled people are equal and able to live independent lives.

Changing attitudes is a significant part of securing that vision. We know that two- thirds of people feel awkward around disabled people. The problem is even more prominent amongst younger people in Britain.

These negative attitudes can have a direct impact on a disabled person’s chances of making friends, getting a job or securing the services they need. When people don’t know a disabled person they can all too often believe lazy, offensive and incorrect stereotypes.

That’s why we’re passionate about changing public attitudes. But this is just one way we work to make the world a better place for disabled people.

Love and Disability

by admin

From the panel discussion at BFI, 27th November 2015.

Love and Disability – Event text

Interview about deaf character in BBC Dr Who played by deaf actress Sophie Stone

by richard

Interview about deaf character in Dr Who played by deaf actress Sophie Stone


In this 7 minute preview clip made by the BBC’s See Hear programme (and shown at the weekend as part of the See Hear Sign Language Festival), you can go behind the scenes and watch Deaf actress Sophie Stone performs recording an upcoming episode of Doctor Who.

Text of interview


Shifting Perceptions on TV – BFI

September 17, 2015 by richard

Love & Disability – Shifting Perceptions on TV

NFT 3 BFI South Bank Book online at BFI or 020 7928 3232

18.15 start (90mins to include 15mins clips and 30mins Audience Questions) 19.45 Finish

Jack Thorne (Writer Cast-Offs)
Victoria Wright (actress and Campaigner)
Ade Rawcliffe (Channel 4 Creative Diversity Manager – TBC)
Nabil Shaban (Writer/Actor)
Alison Walsh the BBC Disability Lead.

Chair: Richard Rieser (UKDHM)

Limited Wheelchair places

UKDHM Day Conference – BFI

by richard

Day Conference – Portrayal of Disability in Mainstream Moving Image Media: Then and Now

BFI in partnership with UK Disability History Monthdownload

Join us for a day of discussion. Film clips, speakers, panels.
Focus on acting, writing, producing & directing.

Disabled and non-disabled practitioners:
Samuel West, Ben Anthony, Liz Carr, Paul Darke, Ju Gosling, Jaye Griffiths, Rahila Gupta, Ewan Marshall, Caglar Kimyoncu, Richard Rieser, Colin Rogers, Shirani Sabratnam, Allan Sutherland, Laura Wade, Danny Sapani.

The events will be signed.
Thurs 19 Nov 2015
Blue Room, BFI Southbank.

Tickets: BFI Box Office £10.00 (£3.00 concs), 020 7928 3232.


Followed by Launch of UKDHM 2015

Blue Room

Philippa Harvey (NUT President), Eleanor Lisney (Sisters of Frida), Sian Vesey, John McDonnell MP, Penny Pepper (Performer), Richard Rieser (UKDHM).

Reserve place for launch at info@ukdhm.org or 0207 359 2855.

Places limited for both events

Accentuate win major Disability History Project

July 9, 2015 by richard

Press release – Delivery phase History of Place announcement FINAL

Interview with Johnny Crescendo

May 1, 2015 by admin

An interview by UKDHM.
The first of a series of disabled people who have made recent history.