Celebrating Disability History Month!

Thu,16 November 2023
News Equality & Rights Participation
Disability History Month is taking place from November 16th to December 16th so at Disability Rights UK, we wanted to take this opportunity to look back on some of our favourite parts of Disability history from across our movement. Below, we have compiled highlights from different DR UK staff members across the organisation – we hope you enjoy these snippets of radical history!

Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) - Bex 

‘They call us wheelchair warriors, we’re kicking up some fuss 

And we will keep on marching ‘til you let us on the bus’ 

DAN’s first high-profile action was done in the constituency of a Tory MP who had blocked a Disabled civil rights bill becoming law. DAN members spent a day chasing him in their wheelchairs around Christchurch during his campaign – he did not win the seat. 

In February 1995, DAN brought traffic on Westminster to a standstill by blocking buses, chaining themselves in their wheelchairs to buses and pulling themselves under vehicles. Similar protests happened in Cardiff and across the country. 

One action they did in 1997, just as Tony Blair had moved into Number 10, was after hearing the government wanted to reduce the welfare budget. They turned up at the gates of Downing Street. 

“We took the paint in takeaway food containers, so it looked like we’d taken our lunch with us as tourists. We threw it, spelling out the words ‘Blair’s blood’. 

“The cuts were going to make us bleed, make us suffer, as disabled people. We knew there were lots of people who wouldn’t be able to afford their heating with the benefit cuts he was proposing.” 

Their direct-action work led to the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 – whilst many agree that it does not far enough to meet DAN’s demands, it was the starting point in the struggle for full equality. Learn more about their struggle on this BBC article. 

Mental Patients’ Union

The Mental Patients’ Union were a radical, Mad collective in Britain during the 1970s, who ‘proclaimed the dignity of society’s so called mental patients’ and challenged ‘repressive psychiatric practice.’ They formed in Paddington hospital around the idea that psychiatry was exerted as a form of social control over working class people, and just how workers have a trade union to fight back, Mad and mentally ill people should have one too. 

Their first meeting was attended by around 150 people, all patients and ex-patients, and they set up their office in a London squat. In their Declaration of Intent in 1973, they set out 24 demands, which included ‘abolition of compulsory treatment or hospitalisation; abolition of irreversible psychiatric treatment (ECT, brain surgery); abolition of censorship by hospital authorities of patients’ communications with outside society.’ 

They had various autonomous groups across Britain, with large ones in Manchester and Hackney. Some of the organising these groups did includes publishing a directory of the side effects of psychiatric drugs (information that is rarely given to patients) and creating a ‘Know Your Rights in Mental Hospital’ pamphlets. They also ran halfway houses for people experiencing crisis or distress, so people had somewhere to get support without the risk of state of psychiatric violence. Manchester Mental Patients’ Union focused on Mental Health Tribunal work – getting people out of hospital. They also ran a support group for people who has experienced abuse from psychotherapists. Over the years, the MPU turned into the Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression (CAPO). In their manifesto, they stated ‘Together with other oppressed groups, victims of psychiatry... must realise their power in the class struggle – alongside Trade Unions, Claimants Unions, Prisoner’s Rights, Feminists, Ethnic Minorities Rights, Gay Liberation.’ You can learn more about the MPU on this libcom article.  

The Fight for Disability Rights – New School Textbook! - Tony 

The new KS3 History Depth Study: Fight for Rights in Modern Britain Student Book has been highlighted as having some radical history on the Disability Movement. 

‘We contributed by reviewing some of the proofs. The early one went back for an extensive re-write and they brought in the People’s History Museum and some of their community curators and turned it into something far more radical and rooted in the social model than I would have imagined possible for a schoolbook. 

It's written for a young audience, meaning teenagers, but proper themes and pretty much adult level language and content, so I recommend anyone to read.’ 

Find more about the book on the Oxford University Press Site. 

Book: Hitler's Forgotten Victims: The Holocaust and the Disabled – Dan  

‘The appalling story of Hitler's murderous policies aimed at the disabled including tens of thousands of children killed by their doctors. Between 1939 and 1945 the Nazi regime systematically murdered thousands of adults and children with physical and mental disabilities as part of its 'euthanasia' policy. These programmes were designed to eliminate all people with disabilities who, according to Nazi ideology, threatened the health and purity of the German race.'

Hitler’s Forgotten Victims explores the development and workings of this nightmarish process, a relatively neglected aspect of the Holocaust. Suzanne Evans's account draws on the rich historical record, as well as scores of exclusive interviews with disabled Holocaust survivors.’ Buy the book online here. 

Disabled Youth: A Children’s Book About Disability History 

One of DR UK’s own Policy and Campaign Officers, Dan White, has written a children’s book on the exact subject of disability history. In the book, Brook's Boredom Busters: Brook and the History Book, Brook is a young wheelchair user who travels back in time to find more Disabled people and figures throughout history just like her. It’s the perfect book for younger Disabled children or non-disabled children to learn more about disability history. 

You can find out more about the book and buy it on the Pearson website.