Disability & Birmingham: A History

Article by Philippa Webley-Evans
Library Services Assistant at The Library of Birmingham.

Content Warning: This text contains derogatory language that was used at the time to describe/explain Disability to maintain historical accuracy. I have used the term Disabled people rather than People with Disabilities in line with UK Government guidelines on inclusive language. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inclusive-communication/inclusive-language-words-to-use-and-avoid-when-writing-about-disability

Chapter 1. 1800-1945

The earliest account of Disability History in Birmingham (that can currently be found) is in the archives of the All-Saints Lunatic Asylum.

Birmingham Borough Lunatic Asylum, later known as All Saints Asylum, opened in June 1850.

At the time treatment at the asylum in the mid nineteenth century was based on ‘moral management,’ treating ‘lunatics’ humanely, it was felt that occupational work and recreation were important to the patients who were strictly segregated by their gender.  Patients were allowed annual picnics and some men and women were allowed to meet for music, singing and dancing. However, the biggest event was Christmas.

In 1860 accounts show that

“On Christmas Eve a party was given on a larger scale, and on this occasion, for the first time since the Asylum opened, the partitions of the hall were removed. It was tastefully decorated with flags, and festoons of shrubs interspersed with artificial flowers, whilst the walls were ornamented with a variety of fancy designs. Most of this was the work of patients and executed in the short space of a fortnight. The ‘tout ensemble’ was striking and displayed to great advantage the fine proportions of the noble room.

89 males and 106 females, more than three fourths of the whole number were present. To quote the language of a Patient who wrote a description of the entertainment, ‘nearly two hundred of God’s erring and deeply afflicted children, called lunatics, assembled clean, neat, quiet with at least a passing smile on their careworn and in some cases half-conscious countenances; a decided cheerfulness, nay merriment on some, and on others an expression of pleasing astonishment.’

Tables being arranged all around the room they sat down to tea at 5 o’clock, and after tea, by way of grace, they rose in a body and sang ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’. The conjoint effort of so many voices, from persons under such circumstances, uniting with ‘one mind and one mouth,’ to thank the great creator for his gifts was most interesting and impressive.

Oranges were distributed in the course of the evening and supper was served at 8 o’clock. Music, singing, dancing and some Xmas games were kept up with great spirit and enjoyment until nine, when all departed quietly to bed’.”

Taken from the Christmas at the Asylum – The Iron Room (wordpress.com)

Attitudes were at their most benevolent in the 1860s with the community contributing to the Christmas entertainment. In 1868 Mr Simpson a lessee of one of the theatres, (we do not know which theatre) invited eighty-five patients to the Christmas Pantomime.

However, conditions deteriorated in the 1870s as attitudes to People with Learning Disabilities hardened and numbers of patients rose leading to overcrowding.

The hardening of attitudes continued in the early 20th Century Disabled people were increasingly being viewed as unable to contribute to the profit of society and even rationalised as harmful to mankind due to the rise in the belief of Eugenics. A belief that was created by Birmingham born Francis Galton in 1883, after being inspired by his half cousin Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species.

Due to these beliefs Disabled people were rejected from the workforce and became viewed as the deserving poor.”

In other words, Disabled people deserved meagre charity rather than employment, institutionalisation rather than independent living and medical scrutiny instead of acceptance. This was backed up by The Medical Model of Disability and later The Charity Model of Disability

Post-World War One an estimated 2 million servicemen returned with a range of impairments such as burns and amputated limbs along with mental health issues such as Shellshock (a form of PTSD) finding themselves without employment or support.

 Image of Disabled Servicemen from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

Henry Rothband proposed The King’s National Roll Scheme wherebyevery company in England and Wales with over ten employees had to ensure that no less than 5 % of their workforce comprised disabled ex-servicemen’.

Taken From Employment of Disabled Ex-Servicemen – The Iron Room (wordpress.com)

Birmingham Corporation, known today as Birmingham City Council, set up a Sub Committee of the General Purposes Committee, to consider action on the employment of Disabled Ex- Servicemen. 

They looked at the number of Disabled Ex-Servicemen employees and felt that this should be brought up to 5% in each of their departments before asking other companies signed up to the scheme to do so.

Despite the country wide scheme many were left to beg on the streets selling matches or cotton reels and playing music to earn money to survive and younger Disabled people with no support were put into institutions.

There were also very few opportunities to enjoy a social life as many places of entertainment such as Cinemas and Theatres were inaccessible, Wheelchair users were even considered a risk in case of emergency   

Disillusioned and disheartened many Disabled people started a peaceful revolution by creating their own social groups which, evolved into clubs and associations such as:- 

  • Birmingham and Midlands Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association started in 1930 is now located in Bromsgrove today. 
  • The Birmingham District Social Club for the Hard of Hearing started in 1932 but is no longer running.
  • The Coventry Cripples Association (still going today under the new name of The Enterprise Club for Disabled People) started in 1938.
Image of Founders, from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

Most of the local groups were either self-supporting or raised funds through charitable appeals. While local groups remained on the periphery of mainstream society, large national institutions such as Royal National Institute for the Blind and Royal National Institute for the Deaf gave roots to the Charity Model of Disability.  

One of the ways local groups increased their outreach was by forging links with national organisations, such as the Invalid Tricycle Association known today as Disabled Motoring UK.

Chapter 2 1945-1960

Following the Second World War, the Government began to make changes to provide support for Ex -Servicemen and Disabled People.

They passed the 1944 Education Act which stated `All British Children have a legal right to be educated according to their age, aptitude, and ability.`                            

For Disabled Children it was believed that they would be joining their Non-Disabled peers in an inclusive and fully accessible mainstream education. However, the reality was an increase in `Special Schools.`

In September 1948, the same the year the National Assistance Act was passed, Carlson House a School for Children with Cerebral Palsy was opened on Victoria Road in Harborne, with support from Paul Cadbury of the Cadbury family and Steve Quayle of Quayle Carpets in Kidderminster as their daughters had Cerebral Palsy.

Image of Carlson House, from Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

Both Paul Cadbury and Steve Quayle also helped set up the Midland Spastic Association, also based in Harborne in 1947, to provide services for people in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Herefordshire. While Carlson House closed in 1982 the MSA now known as Cerebral Palsy Midlands is still going today.

In fact, from the1940s onwards there was an increase in charities being set up by parents/ carers many of which are available today such as: –

  • Mencap founded in 1946.
  • Mind also founded in 1946.
  • Leonard Cheshire Homes now known as Leonard Cheshire founded  in 1948.
  • The Spastics Society now known as Scope founded 1954.

In the late 1940s with the launch of the NHS, the Ministry of Health were looking for ways to help Ex Servicemen and Disabled people become more mobile. The idea was that everyone should be using their legs to get from A to B. However, if a Disabled person was unable to do that it was the NHS who would need to rectify that in line with the Medical Model of Disability.

They did this by providing Invacars. Thundersley or AC Invacars were one-person seater, motor and chain driven trikes, with a fibreglass shell created in 1946 by Bertram Greeves. They had tillers instead of a steering wheel, were easy to get into and had space for a wheelchair.

Despite having the word car in the name and the Government deeming them fit for use on roads/ motorways, the Invacar was actually considered to be a prosthetic! People eligible for an Invacar would attend an Artificial Limb Appliance Centre to pass their `driving test. ` This consisted of being able to apply the brake. If they were able to, they were allowed to drive.

Image of Invacar, from Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

Access to education and care was not based on wealth/ class related privilege however, expectations of Disabled people remained limited.

In 1950 Birmingham Corporation published its Handbook of 1950, which outlined Birmingham’s duties towards its Disabled citizens in accordance with the National Assistance Act.

The duties were to provide:-

  • `Residential accommodation for people who, by reason of age and infirmity or any other circumstances are in need of care and attention which is not otherwise available to them.`
  • Promote the welfare of `persons who are blind, deaf, or dumb and other persons who are substantially or permanently handicapped by illness or injury or congenital deformity, or such other disabilities , as may in future be prescribed through instruction and employment of methods for overcoming the effects of their disabilities and provision of workshops and residential hospitals.`  

To meet the duty of promoting the welfare of Disabled people sheltered workshops and a Home Workers Scheme was created to encourage Disabled people to undertake jobs that were felt to be appropriate not only for their disability but also their gender.

Some of the trades available to men were: –

  • Piano Tuning.
  • Chimney Sweeping.
  • Firewood Chopping.
  • Shop Keeping.
  • Basket Weaving.

Some of the trades available to women were: –

  • Music Teachers.
  • Typist.
  • Machine Knitters.
  • Fancy Basket Weaving.

Imgaes of handbook and occupations taken from Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

Chapter 3 1960-1980

Disabled people were leaving education and finding that despite achieving in school they were still marginalised and rejected by society. Either by being given monotonous tokenistic work and/ orbeing paid less than their Non-Disabled peers.

The Invacars were also proving to be very dangerous as they would catch fire or would blow over in the wind.

These injustices led Disabled organisations to begin marching in protest in 1960 initially for pension rights, but it soon grew into protests for equal pay, independent living and accessible safe transport. There were also protests about ending the poverty they faced as they did not receive welfare support. In essence Disabled People were marching for equal rights.

Image of protest from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre

In 1970 Alf Morris an MP from Manchester, successfully brought in the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act 1970. It was the first in the world to give rights to Disabled People and was a ground-breaking step towards equality.

The Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act 1970 or CSDPA made local authorities responsible for providing and enforcing: –

  • Practical adaptations in the home such as a telephone. Also, to provide meals in the home or elsewhere.
  • Access to Special Educational facilities for Children identified as Blind and/ or Deaf. This was then extended to include Autism and Dyslexia with the expectation that it was the same level of education across all local authorities.
  • Access to public buildings such as Libraries and recreation facilities.
  • Disabled Badges and provision were made for `invalid carriages` now known as mobility scooters to be used on pavements and footpaths without threat of prosecution.
  • The CSPDA made it clear that representation of people who have knowledge or experience of disability should be increased although this was not statutory.
  • Separate spaces for the young and elderly:- in hospital the young and elderly patients were to be separated in wards and in local accommodation
  • War pensions under the CSPDA people could now appeal decisions made regarding their war pension.

Activist and Disabled writer Paul Hunt wrote a letter to The Guardian newspaper in September 1972 calling for equality for Disabled people. His letter led to the formation of the Union for the Physically Impaired Against Segregation with Vik Finkelstein. The union formulated the basic principles of the social-model interpretation of disability

Image of rally and Paul Hunt from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

In 1973 Len Tasker one of the founders of The Enterprise Club for Disabled People was one of a small delegation that met with then Prime Minister Edward Heath to discuss the issue of mobility.

Image of Len Tasker from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

The delegation wished to press the Prime Minister to abolish the dangerous three wheeled Invacars which, were not taken completely off the road until 2003!

Campaigners wanted to replace them with allowances to enable Disabled people to have hand-controlled cars and have access to public transport which, meant Disabled people could have autonomy and independence rather than having to rely on their carers.

In 1974 Alf Morris became the UK’s first Minister for Disabled People while in the role he  introduced benefits for Disabled people and their carers, including a mobility allowance.

Alfred Morris, 20 April 1972, Parliamentary Archives, PUD/6/2/

Closer to home in 1977 a new disability organization was formed called the West Midland Council for Disabled People.

It was made up of Disabled professionals such as Professor Edward Marsland, the Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University and Ruth Rolfe, from the West Midlands Council for Prepatory Training. The committee was formed with three quarters of the members being Disabled. 

It also included medical professional Dr John Harrison. The group offered advice/ support across all types of impairment and social issues such as medical welfare and education. The WMCDP followed the medical & charitable approaches to disability which still dominated wider society.

In 1978, the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council published a book called Birmingham Guide for the Disabled at 25p.

The book details information on: –

  • Welfare services.
  • Transport.
  • Toilets.
  • Shopping.
  • Hotels.
  • Restaurants.
  • Churches.
  • Banks
  • Entertainment
  • Sutton Coldfield

The book shows that while Birmingham had made significant strides in accessibility in areas such as the Central Library: –

“The building (opened in 1973) was planned with careful provision for disabled readers. For wheelchair users, access is by way of a ramp from Chamberlain square. Disabled drivers should approach from Edmund Street passing through the barriers which give access to the concourse. A special entrance for the disabled is on the left of the main entrance reached via a route marked by the wheelchair symbol. Cars may be parked alongside. Pressing the bell summons an attendant who will conduct the reader to the floor required, by lift. A wheelchair is available if needed.”

Other areas were lacking e.g., Toilets: –

There are only two public toilet blocks in Birmingham with special provision for a wheelchair to go into the cubicle: Paradise Circus, where you must knock loudly on the door or ask someone to inform the attendant in the Gents that you need the key. The second, in Lancaster Circus can only be approached by steps or ramp from a NO PARKING area-but I assure you we are trying to get this altered. There are Disabled toilets at the entrance to Shirley Park, Stratford Road, Solihull Toilets are reasonably easy of access, but it is seldom possible to take the chair and shut the door.”

Extracts from Birmingham Guide For The Disabled

Chapter 4: 1980-2001

1981 became the United Nations designated year of International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) with the slogan “A Wheelchair in Every Home.” The objectives were:-

  1. Full participation and Equality defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.”
  •  “Increasing public awareness; understanding and acceptance of persons with disabilities;”
  •  “Encouraging persons with disabilities to form organizations through which they can express their views and promote action to improve their situation.”

Taken from The International Year of Disabled Persons 1981 | United Nations Enable and

International Year of Disabled Persons – Wikipedia

In the first newsletter by the West Midland Council for Disabled People called Pinpoint, the main article was regarding the fact that it was International Year of Disabled Persons, and the fact that little was being done.

Time to Disturb The Public

What is happening! We read such headlines as `old and disabled hit by ban on centres; Social Services cuts influence the services to the old and disabled Home Helps and Meals on Wheels to be reduced.

This is 1981 the year designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Disabled Persons and in this country known as International Year of Disabled People.

One of the aims of the year is to increase public awareness of what disability is and awareness of the problem it brings. Such headlines as these only add further in reducing the quality of life of those in need of a greater degree of support for their wellbeing. Surely, we should be building up not destroying.

The second aim of the year is the participation, equality, and integration of disabled people. Integration means the absence of social barriers, being treated like everyone else, the absence of segregation. Some of these barriers have occurred throughout history when it was easier to put `oddities` be they homeless poor or disabled, in an institution, our consciences were the absolved by our `charity`

It is only since the experience of the First World War that we have come to realise that disabled people can think and express themselves as well as those with no apparent disability.

The ultimate goal would be that disabled people must have the same opportunities and equal rights as the rest of us. The right to go to work, the right to enjoy leisure time to the full and go where they want, when they want. In fact, the right of choice.

If we are to communicate the message of the International Year, disabled people must not be seen to be seeking special treatment or privileges. They must express their views without any tendency towards self-centredness and consistently aim to overcome the problem within people of inherent ignorance. The public must be disturbed and made aware during the International Year of Disabled People.”

Pinpoint article Taken from Forward The History of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre LC BIR1

A leading light in this was Birmingham’s Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd previously known as Parkinson Cowan/ Parkinson Stove Company.

Mr William Robert Mackenzie was an active member of Association for Research into Restricted Growth. He helped to develop a Sheltered Workshop for people at Thorn Gas where he worked from 1935 – 1983.

The firm was presented with a Fit for Work award in 1981 by the Manpower Services Commission. For recognition in the firms’ exemplary policies and practical achievements in the employment of people with disabilities. As well as more than ten years of integration at work between non-Disabled workers and Disabled workers.

Mr Mackenzie who had by this point become the Departmental Manager for the Spares Department and Sheltered Workshop said: – 

“Thorn Gas at Stechford had more than 70 people of its 1100 employees registered as disabled.

We have people here with all kinds of disability ranging from asthma to blindness – yet they are all proving that they can carry out worthwhile work. Some people continued to work alongside their able-bodied colleagues after adaptations had been made to machinery and equipment; other staff re-trained and were found alternative employment in the Sheltered Workshop.”

Taken from The Iron WordPress Disability History Month 2016

The International Year of Disabled Persons got people thinking and in 1984 the United Nations declaration of Human Rights was amended to specifically include the rights of Disabled people.

As this began to change in the early 80s, Birmingham became a good example of thinking globally, acting locally.

Following work as a researcher into the needs of Disabled people Bob Findlay was largely unimpressed at what was then available for Disabled people.

 While the West Midlands Council for Disabled People focused mainly on the individual in terms of care, information and benefits, Bob felt that something new was needed if Disabled people in the city were going to achieve greater freedom and rights.

Bob Williams-Findlay 

Following at meeting in London about establishing a Disability nerve centre Bob realised that was what he wanted to do. He was able to get funds from Birmingham City Council and launched the Birmingham Disability Rights Group in 1985.

The group discussed various ideas, the main idea was to be a campaign group focusing on the way society treats Disabled people and changing that. As well as   establishing a disability resource centre. BDRG pushed for the Social Model of Disability to be taken on in Birmingham.

Some of the campaigns held by BDRG were:-

1986:- BDRG joined a television discussion regarding language and disability.   

1987:- BDRG protest the medical model representation of Disabled People by the Manpower services commission and also supported a Disabled couple fighting for custody of their child in high court.

1988:-  BDRG challenged West Bromwich Albion on the assumption that all Disabled supporters are wheelchair users.

While the 1980s saw language, values, models, and the rules around Disabled people being debated/ new plans being made, the1990s saw the beginning of these changes being implemented.

In 1990, The Americans With Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, came into effect in the USA.

However, it took the UK another five years to implement its own disability discrimination law. This was despite MP Lord Jack Ashley putting forward his own private members bill on disability discrimination in 1983.

Lord Jack Ashley was the first Deaf MP. He was a tireless campaigner for disability rights who, broke down many barriers for Disabled people. Most notably for people born with impairments as a result mothers taking the drug thalidomide for morning sickness in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While Jacks members’ bill failed, it added fuel to the growing and relentless campaign.

A watershed moment happened when ITV’s Telethon aired on 27th May 1990.The Telethon was a programme that solicited funds from the public via events and celebrities for Disabled people, who were portrayed as pitiable victims in need of charity.

On 27th May 1990, known as Block Telethon, thousands of Disabled people from all over the UK gathered outside London Weekend Television Studios protesting at the patronising way the telethon was portraying Disabled people.

Images of Block Telethon protest from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

The protests made the statement that Disabled people were no longer willing to be viewed as passive recipients of charity and helped change the media and public attitudes towards Disabled people.

Alf Morris introduced a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in 1992 but it failed on the second reading.

On a positive note, the Disability Living Allowance began in 1992 which, merged the previous Mobility Allowance and Attendance Allowance.

During this period, the Birmingham Disability Rights group was becoming more firmly established, more vocal and their campaign for a Disability Resource Centre was gaining momentum. However, it was very difficult for the group to maintain continuity in its activities because of the challenge in obtaining funding and finding suitable premises. BDRG moved offices three times in four years. Each move was to more accessible and bigger premises, but each premise threw up new challenges: –

  • None of the buildings were central to the city.
  • Problems with transport i.e., taxis did not have to assist wheelchair users until 2017 and buses were not accessible.
  • Most members didn’t have the support they needed e.g., support assistants to attend the group.

In 1992 the Disability Resource Centre was opened in Birmingham.

It is still going strong 30 years on providing services in Birmingham, Solihull, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and South Staffordshire (including: Cannock, Lichfield and Tamworth).

Disability campaigns were about to take another big step forward following outrage at the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill proposed by Kingswood MP Roger Berry failing a second time. 

Images of protest at the Civil Rights Disabled Persons bill failing from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre.

On 23rd May 1994 Disabled people gathered to protest that Berry’s Bill had been talked out by Nicholas Scott, The then, Minister for Social Security and Disabled People at House of Commons. However, the protesters were not allowed in the main entrance by the Sergeant at Arms.

They were told to use carriage gate entrance. The protestors crawled on their hands and knees to the entrance only to find the gates were shut.

This sparked huge outrage from the public and parliamentary embarrassment. The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act came into legislation on 7th November 1995.

The Act in summary was “An Act to make it unlawful to discriminate against Disabled Persons in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises; to make provision about the employment of disabled persons; and to establish a National Disability Council.”

Taken fromDisability Discrimination Act: 1995 and now – House of Lords Library (parliament.uk)

The Disability Discrimination Act was rolled out in stages and sadly fell short of expectations.

Employers had to make ”reasonable adjustments” to workplaces from 1996. However, it only applied to firms employing more than 15 people until 2004.

Service providers such as libraries, banks, shops etc. didn’t have to offer documents in accessible formats, until 1999, neither were they required to make reasonable adjustments to physical barriers to access, such as widening doorways, until 2004.

In the same year as the Disability Discrimination Act, The Disabled Person’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Birmingham Disability Rights Group, came together to campaign that public transport, such as the new buses and refurbished railways, had not taken into account the needs of Disabled people.

The new Disability Discrimination Act did not cover discrimination on transport. This didn’t change until the Disability Discrimination Act was updated in 2005. It was also the first time conditions such as HIV, Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis were covered in the act.

Image of transport discrimination protest from, Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL with permission from Steven Moralee Head of Fundraising and Partnerships Disability Resource Centre

Chapter 5: 2010-2022

In 2010 the Disability Discrimination Act was repealed and replaced with the Equality Act, “The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. The Equality Act is responsible for:- 

  • Extending protection against indirect discrimination to disability
  • Introducing the concept of “discrimination arising from disability” to replace protection under previous legislation lost as a result of a legal judgment
  • Applying the detriment model to victimisation protection (aligning with the approach in employment law)
  • Harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people
  • Extending protection against harassment of employees by third parties to all protected characteristics
  • Making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out when applying for jobs, by restricting the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health.”

Taken from the Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Three years later in 2013,  Disability Living Allowance was changed by the Government to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

“A benefit that upon an assessment, which, has been outsourced to two private companies, will help with extra living costs of everyday life, if the person has an illness, disability, or mental health condition.”

This benefits system has been widely criticised by Disability charities for failing Disabled people, leaving many without support. Statistics show that 75% of appeals made to a tribunal for PIP were successful in 2018/19. Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Independence_Payment

Meanwhile in Birmingham, The Library of Birmingham was opened on 3rd September 2013 by Malala Yousafzai. Birmingham Access Committee were involved throughout the design process to ensure the new library is easily accessible for all visitors keeping in line with the Social Model of Disability. 

Image of Library of Birmingham taken from  Library of Birmingham, Photos, Library of Birmingham Images. 
Image of Clearview Reader an intuitive video magnifier available for use at the Library of Birmingham  taken by Philippa Webley-Evans

In 2020 life as we knew it changed forever as Coronavirus or Covid 19 swept the globe.

Disabled People faced an increased risk of ill health and death during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between January and November 2020, Disabled People accounted for 6 out of 10 deaths involving Covid 19.

The Office for National Statistics began surveys on how this was affecting Disabled people.

The survey showed that at the beginning in March / April 2020:-

  • Almost half (45.1%) of disabled adults, compared with around a third (30.2%) of non-disabled adults, reported being very worried about the effect the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having on their life. Nearly 9 in 10 disabled adults (86.3%) reported they are very worried or somewhat worried.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64.8%) of disabled adults said COVID-19-related concerns were affecting their well-being.
  • Disabled adults were significantly more likely than non-disabled adults to report spending too much time alone; around a third (35.0%) of disabled adults reported this compared to a fifth (19.9%) of non-disabled adults.

The most recent survey from March 2020 to December 2021 shows:-

  • Fewer disabled people reported being very or somewhat worried about the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was having on their life (72%) than at earlier points in the pandemic (91% in March 2020, 78% in February 2021); but the latest estimates were higher than during the period of restrictions easing in 2021 (62% in May 2021, 59% in June 2021).
  • Disabled people continued to have on average poorer well-being ratings than non-disabled people across all four well-being measures (life satisfaction, feeling that things done in life are worthwhile, happiness and anxiety).
  • Feeling stressed or anxious (79%), making their mental health worse (50%) and feeling like a burden on others (23%) were the well-being concerns disabled people more frequently reported than non-disabled people (68%, 31% and 7% respectively).
  • Around twice as many disabled people (40%) reported feeling lonely (often, always, or some of the time) than non-disabled people (18%).
  • A larger proportion of disabled people reported they thought life would never return to normal (18%) compared with non-disabled people (11%).
  • Around three-quarters of disabled people (74%) reported that their cost of living had increased in the last month; higher than non-disabled people (64%).

Taken from the Office for National Statistics Coronavirus and the social impacts on disabled people in Great Britain: March 2020 to December 2021

In 2022 Birmingham became the focus of the world as it became the host for the XXII Commonwealth Games more commonly known as Birmingham 2022.

Birmingham City Council follows the Social Model of Disability.  To match this Birmingham 2022 signed the Include Me pledge, a new participation and equality initiative.

By signing the pledge Birmingham had made the commitment to support and consider how it can better engagewith people and is open to listening to their thoughts and views. Birmingham had become part of a region wide movement of change to be more inclusive.

Following extensive preparations, Birmingham 2022 ran from 28th July 2022 – 8th August 2022. It was the largest games ever held with 72 participating nations and over 1.3 million ticket sales.

Birmingham 2022 was the first to integrate para sport and to have more events for women than men.

The sports were:-

  • Aquatics including Diving and Swimming/ Para Swimming
  • Athletics/ Para Athletics
  • Badminton
  • 3×3 Basketball/ 3×3 Wheelchair Basketball
  • Beach Volleyball
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Cycling  (Mountain biking, Road and Track)/ Para Cycling
  • Gymnastics (Artistic and Rhythmic)
  • Judo
  • Field hockey
  • Lawn bowls/ Para Lawn Balls
  • Netball
  • Powerlifting/ Para Power Lifting
  • Rugby sevens
  • Squash
  • Table Tennis/ Para Table Tennis
  • Triathlon/ Para Triathlon
  • Weightlifting
  • Wrestling

876 Commonwealth Games medals were handed out with Australia taking the lead with 178 medals in total and England in second with 176.

A particular highlight was England’s Hannah Cockroft wining her first commonwealth medal (gold) in the women’s 100m T33/34 with her teammates alongside her in silver and bronze.

Image of Commonwealth Games Bull from, Library of Birmingham, Photos, CWG Bull

Wednesday 16th November 2022 – Friday 16th December is  Disability History Month, the theme is Health and Wellbeing below are some topics to open a discussion on Disability.

We ask that everyone who leaves a comment to please be respectful of each other. 

Appendices & Questions

Disabled Minister:
Alf Morris was the First Disabled Minister but who is the current Disabled Minister?
Answer: Claire Coutinho (as of September 2022).

The Medical Model of Disability:
“According to the medical model of disability, a lack of function in the body is equal to a reduced quality of life. The disability is viewed as a defect that the medicine must fix (or cure) to help the individual be happy and healthy”.
Taken from https://www.accessibility.com/blog/the-history-and-evolution-of-disability-models

Discussion Topic 1:- What do you think about this model of Disability?
The Charity Model of Disability
“The Charity Model is an offshoot of the Medical Model. According to the Charity Model, a person has a disability. This disability is a ‘problem’ in their body and good citizens should feel pity for the Disabled person’s tragedy, or inspired by a Disabled person’s achievements.”
Taken from https://www.accessibility.com/blog/the-history-and-evolution-of-disability-models
Discussion Topic 2:- What do you think about this model of Disability?

Social Model of Disability:

“The Social Model describes disability in relation to the environment of the person with the disability. Instead of focusing on the function of the body, the social model identifies barriers in the environment, such as derogatory attitudes, social isolation, or physical exclusion of people with disabilities.” Taken from https://www.accessibility.com/blog/the-history-and-evolution-of-disability-models

Discussion topic 3:- This is the Model of Disability used by Birmingham City Council what do you think of this model?

Birmingham & its People:

Discussion Topic 4:- How has Birmingham changed in its actions towards Disabled people? What do you think should be the next step?


References from the Library of Birmingham Archives Department:-

Forward : the history of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre  by Pete Millington and Hazel Wood.  LF 41.13 MIL

Birmingham Guide For The Disabled 1970 by Birmingham Voluntary Council in conjunction with RADAR L46.03 1978

Photos of the Library of Birmingham and Commonwealth Games Bull,  taken from the  Libraries own photo collection.

References Online:-

Explore Your Archive: Disability History Month 2016 – The Iron Room (wordpress.com)

Christmas at the Asylum – The Iron Room (wordpress.com)

Employment of Disabled Ex-Servicemen – The Iron Room (wordpress.com)

Understanding Disability: Part 4 – The Charity Model | Drake Music

Paul Hunt – National Disability Arts Collection & Archive (the-ndaca.org)

Gone for a decade: The invalid carriage – BBC News

Charity History – Disabled Motoring UK

The International Year of Disabled Persons 1981 | United Nations Enable

International Year of Disabled Persons – Wikipedia

BBC – Forty years of Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act

25 years on from 1995 how have things change for Disabled people


Celebrating the hidden history of disabled people’s fight for civil rights | Disability | The Guardian




A History of Disability: from 1050 to the Present Day | Historic England

Disability Discrimination Act: 1995 and now – House of Lords Library (parliament.uk)



Covid-19 pandemic: impact on people with disabilities


Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games signs up to pioneering disability pledge (wmca.org.uk)

Office for National Statistics Coronavirus and the social impacts on disabled people in Great Britain: March 2020 to December 2021