The radical disabled people’s network DAN has warned the government to expect an imminent return to the kind of high-profile, non-violent, direct action protests last seen in the 1990s.
The pledge was made at the launch of the second UK Disability History Month (UK DHM), which is running until 22 December.
Barbara Lisicki was a key DAN figure in its glory days in the 1990s, which saw disabled activists forcing ITV to abandon its fund-raising Telethon, and chaining themselves to buses to protest at the lack of accessible transport.
Lisicki told the UK DHM launch event, held at the National Union of Teachers’ London headquarters: “When disabled people get together they have immense power.”
But she said the protests currently taking place over the government’s cuts to benefits and services were “too nice, too polite” and it was “time we got out there and upset people”.
She added: “DAN had a great history but we need to have a great future, too.”
After the launch, Lisicki told Disability News Service that direct action over the government’s cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services would happen, and added: “I can’t tell you when and how, but it is going to happen for sure.
“The issue is very much ‘stop attacking disabled people’s rights’. It is about saying that all the gains we have made are just being grabbed back and they think we will not notice.”
She said she believed the protests would have as much impact as DAN’s actions in its 1990s heyday, and would certainly target the government.
She said: “When it happens, it will be a big splash. It is a question of when, not if.”
UK DHM founder Richard Rieser said disabled people owed many of the rights they currently enjoyed to previous campaigns led by the disability movement, and added: “This government is pedalling lie after lie about our lives as disabled people.
“We need to get a little bit more active about this, otherwise all those things achieved in the past will be gone.
“Disability History Month isn’t just about looking over our shoulder, it is also about moving forward.”
Other presentations at the launch included one from Maresa MacKeith, a poet and disabled activist, who discussed the work of two eighteenth century disabled poets, Mary Chandler and Mary Leapor, and read a poem from her own book, Taking the Time.
As part of UK DHM, the British Library has launched Disability Voices, a new collection of oral history interviews with disabled people.
The collection includes: the Scope-led project Speaking for Ourselves, an oral history of people with cerebral palsy; Hearing Link’s Unheard Voices, a collection of interviews with Deafened People; interviews with Paralympians Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and Danny Crates, recorded for An Oral History of British Athletics; and Geoff Webb’s self-recorded autobiography, his account of living with polio.
Meanwhile, Katharine Quarmby, who is taking part this weekend in a discussion about disability hate crime as part of UK DHM, has been presented with the literature prize at the annual Ability Media International Awards for Scapegoat, her ground-breaking book on the subject.
Quarmby will be speaking at the free event at the TUC’s headquarters in London on Saturday 26 November, from 11am, alongside Mike Smith, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner, and Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network.