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Disability History Month ‘will be standard-bearer for rights’

Disability History Month ‘will be standard-bearer for rights’
4th November 2010 developer

Disabled activists are set to launch the first UK Disability History Month (DHM), with backing from more than 40 organisations.

The aim is to encourage schools and colleges, as well as the media, unions, employers and public bodies, to raise the profile of disabled people’s rights, inclusion, disablism, the social model of disability and the struggle for equality.

The month, which will take place from 22 November to 22 December, has been timed to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, International Human Rights Day on 8 December and HIV/AIDS Day on 1 December.

DHM coordinator Richard Rieser said: “DHM is about rights not charity. It is about solidarity in our struggle for equality, not feeling sorry for disabled people.”

Although Rieser only came up with the idea for DHM in July, a string of events have already been lined up.

These include a pre-release screening of a highly-rated documentary about Staff Benda Bilili, the band of street musicians from the Congo – most of who are disabled – at the Tricycle cinema in north London on 5 December; and a celebration of the struggle for inclusive education, at the Institute of Education in London on 24 November.

The TUC will be holding a meeting examining disabled people’s battle for rights at work, while the DHM line-up also includes events in Tiverton, Bristol and Cardiff.

And Birmingham Disability Resource Centre (BDRC), one of many leading disabled people’s organisations backing DHM, will run a disability history-themed event at Midland Arts Centre on 3 December.

As well as examining disabled people’s historical struggles, DHM will also focus on more recent events.

Rieser said the idea for DHM was sparked by the sparse mention of disabled people in the new government’s coalition agreement, which he said was “a warning sign” about its attitude to disability.

This was reinforced later, he said, by the government’s decision – as part of its programme of spending cuts – to scrap the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee.

He said he hoped DHM would act as “a standard-bearer for disability rights”, which were now “under attack” from government cuts.

Rieser said the latest spending cuts protests by disabled people, such as those during last month’s anti-cuts march in Birmingham, were “history in the making”.

He added: “The benefits that are being cut were only won by previous people’s struggles. They always had to be fought for. That perspective needs to be there.”

Rieser hopes DHM will also celebrate disabled people’s lives and achievements, focusing not only on leading figures from the disability movement, but also those such as Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry and Albert Einstein, who “were not part of the movement but still fought for the right to be part of society”.

And he hopes it will put disabled people on a par with other minority groups who already have their own history months, such as Black History Month, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History Month, and Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.

Pete Millington, information and community empowerment officer for BDRC, said he believed that DHM was “hugely important” and would “bring home to people in a powerful way experiences of discrimination” and the “change of attitudes to disabled people and how that has been brought around by disabled people themselves”.