Disowned and disabled. 2/2, Breaking free.
- Borsay, Anne.
About this work
The second in a two-part series which looks back over the progress of the care of disabled children since the second World War. Anne Rae, born with cerebral palsy, describes her childhood in an institution. Her memories of the disabled girls school/home are that it was reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse. Professor Anne Borsay, College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University, corroborates this. In the 1940s and 1950s all disabled people whether physically or mentally handicapped were institutionalised together. Brian Rix, an actor, had a daughter with Down's Syndrome (he is now chair of Mencap); he was advised to put her away and forget her. The MInistry of Health advised what schools to send her to; he visited several of the homes (and the one where one of the programme's participants Mabel Cooper was held). He found that 3,000-4,000 people were held together with nothing to do. Many children were physically disabled as a result of polio or tuberculosis; the available treatment was little except fresh air and exercise. David Bradford, born with cerebral palsy, nearly died of pneumonia as a result of the spartan conditions in a former TB hospital. Anne Rae describes her dismay at receiving calipers (with archive footage of a child trying to walk with calipers). Professor Nick Watson, University of Glasgow, describes how doctors were intent on getting children walking rather than in wheelchairs - regardless of discomfort. As a result of the Welfare State, there was a radical move to integrate disabled children into ordinary schools even though there were no special resources provided. Anne Rae found a large supply of abandoned books in her school and educated herself. Another woman in a mainstream school was bullied mercilessly. An exception was Treleor School in Hampshire which still exists; David Bradford attended the school which was run like a private school. He was funded by his local authority. Many children expected to join their peers in the more liberalised society of the 1960s ; they were to be disappointed. Despite a quota which existed so that employers would take on people with disabilities, many disabled people chose to hide their impairments. David Bradford joined an electrical firm in an accounting department and he learnt to develop a thick skin. Paul Hunt (as remembered by his wife Judy Hunt), born with muscular dystrophy, was transferred to a geriatric wing when he became an adult. He became very depressed. He saw a television programme which showed a number of homes at Leigh Court specially designed for people with wheelchairs and afforded the residents a degree of freedom. Over time tensions arose between the management and the residents; Paul Hunt rallied the residents. Leonard Cheshire, a disabled war veteran who set up the home, intervened and then the residents became more involved in decisions relating to their care. Hunt left Leigh Court in 1970 and began his life as a campaigner for people with disabilities. At this time, however, more children were still being instititionalised - Ann Young recalls her parents leaving her at a home. From 1970 the government obliged all children to be educated regardless of disability and careers advice was provided. In the early 1960s, a new group of disabled people emerged - thalidomide-effected children. One thalidomider, Kevin Donnellon, talks about his school days - a school in Liverpool accommodated a group of thalidomiders, although there was no special provision for them. Paul and Judy Hunt meanwhile were working on the rights of disabled people; Paul wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper in 1972 and a new campaigning organisation was formed (UPIAS). Anne Rae was one of the first members. A manifesto which led to a new model of disability resulted in greater rights for disabled people. A television documentary 'The Silent Minority', opened the eyes of the general public. Mabel Cooper took part in a television series describing her childhood in care. In 1981, the United Nations made this the International year of disabled persons. Kevin Donnellon took part in some of the media coverage and was offered a job at the local council (at a time of high unemployment in Liverpool). Kevin embarked on adult life - which proved a shock to his mother when he had a girlfriend. Kevin became a political activist. The social model of disability led many disabled people to realise that the barriers to leading a normal life were not their fault and activists railed against the portrayal of disabled people as vulnerable and needy. In 1995 in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed - reasonable accommodation needs to be made to provide access to all areas of public life for disabled people. Finally, there is a comment that this model is yet to be perfected and that integration doesn't always work so special schools may still need to co-exist. Many of the participants in this programme are leading full lives in the public sphere with families of their own.