One of the leading figures in the history of the disabled people’s movement has called on activists to “shout their outrage from the rooftops” after last week’s “horrific” general election result.
Maggie Davis says she believes the result will lead to further attacks on rights and increased pressure on disabled people to be forced to move into segregated institutions.
She was speaking on the publication of a new book, To and From Grove Road, which describes her key role in some of the most significant moments in the movement’s history.
While setting up the ground-breaking Grove Road accessible housing project in Nottinghamshire in the 1970s, and living in accommodation in nearby Derbyshire, she and her husband Ken also came up with the idea for DIAL – the first telephone advice and information line provided by and for disabled people – as a result of the problems they had had searching for disability-related information.
They set up DIAL in an unused cloakroom, with a single telephone, both provided by Derbyshire County Council, and with help from disabled colleagues.
DIAL also laid the foundations for the country’s first coalition of disabled people, Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People, again with support from Derbyshire County Council, and Derbyshire Centre for Integrated Living.
Maggie and Ken Davis also helped set up the pioneering Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) in the early 1970s.
She told Disability News Service this week that she feared much of what they helped to achieve could now be at risk, following successive Conservative-led governments.
She said: “I think we all feel very proud of what we did but we are desolate about what we think we know is going to happen and that they will destroy it all.”
At the time they were working on Grove Road, though, there was no time for pride, she said. “There was no time for self congratulations, and there was no place for it, it was just something that needed to be done.
“If we didn’t do it, nobody would. It was just hard work. It was a struggle for everybody, but it was galvanising at the time. “
Davis says she has seen many of the achievements of the disabled people’s movement being “devastated” by the austerity policies of successive Conservative-led governments, which she says have seen disabled and older people as just a drain on resources.
She said: “If no action is taken, then we could quite easily end up where we began, being incarcerated away from society out of sight and out of the public mind.”
She says she can see herself “cornered and frightened like a rabbit in the headlights”, and she says she believes they “just don’t want disabled people around”.
To and From Grove Road describes how Maggie and Ken Davis finally moved into the independent living housing project in 1976 after designing it from scratch and fighting to complete it for over four years.
Grove Road was a new building with three ground-floor flats designed for wheelchair-users, and three flats on the first floor for volunteer non-disabled tenants who would provide personal assistance support on a rota basis for the disabled people living on the ground floor.
It was not a complicated idea, she says. “As there was no support in society, our concept for Grove Road was simple: specially-designed flats with good technical aids and able-bodied people for extra support as and when needed.”
This was years before the introduction of the Independent Living Fund, direct payments and other funding mechanisms that would in the future allow many disabled people to live in their own homes with personal assistance.
The book also describes how Maggie Davis struggled for nearly a decade to escape from a series of segregated residential units and care homes – which she describes as “tarted-up Poor Law institutions” – after becoming disabled in 1967, including one in which she experienced and witnessed physical and emotional abuse.
In an article she wrote in 1983, reproduced in the book, the former nurse said: “Society had incarcerated me because they thought and still do – that institutions were the right places for people like me.
“For me the natural place was out there in society playing an active part, as I had always done, in the community.”
She says now: “I had not realised that people were shut away and incarcerated into institutions until it happened to me.”
She also wrote in that article: “We are social beings, it is offensive and wrong to remove us from society and treat us as sub-humans.”
A quarter of a century later, she describes this segregation and treatment of disabled people as “criminal”.
She wrote in 1983 that “integrated” living was the way that disabled people could rejoin society, with “real control” over their lives, and see “segregated residential institutions… thrown into the garbage can of history”.
After Grove Road, the couple secured a mortgage and a grant to buy and adapt – including installing a through-ceiling lift – a semi-detached home of their own in Derbyshire, where Maggie Davis still lives, despite Ken’s death in 2008, with funding that enables her to continue to live independently in her own home.
But she looks at the last decade of government austerity and is “terrified” about whether she will continue to receive the funding she needs for 24-7 support.
“With the constant eroding of funding, I am in constant fear of this being removed and me being forced back into institutional care, which I would not allow,” she says.
“It’s just horrendous. I can see it being taken away from me and being taken away from us. Every time they come to do an assessment, they try to take a bit more off me.
“With the result of the election, the feeling of impending doom has become more of a reality. The terror has been unleashed.”
She sees this as partly the result of years of government rhetoric which has suggested that disabled people are a drain on society’s resources, while charities continue to push the idea of segregated institutions, while “feeding off the public” with their charity shops.
She says: “I just think they want to put people in old people’s homes because they think it’s cheaper, when we all know that it’s not cheaper.”
Now she is appealing to disabled activists to “shout their outrage from the rooftops” about the government’s austerity policies and the creeping return to segregated, institutional living, and find a way to overturn the “internalised disablism” of the mainstream media and convince it to publicise their fight for rights.
To and From Grove Road is the first time that Davis’s own accounts of how she became disabled, the 10 years she spent in institutions, and how she and her husband eventually set up the Grove Road project, have been published.
The book also includes a series of photographs and extracts from key documents.
Davis said she agreed to the book being published because she did not want the history of the disabled people’s movement to be lost or forgotten, particularly by younger disabled people.
The book has been published by Tony Baldwinson, a long-time ally of the disabled people’s movement, through the same TBR imprint that published Judy Hunt’s radical history of the disabled people’s movement, No Limits, in July.
*For details on how to order the book, which costs £4.99 for a paperback or is free via a PDF download, visit Tony Baldwinson’s website
Picture: Maggie Davis in Grove Road
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