A new five-year, lottery-funded project is set to bring to life the history of the disabled people’s movement over the last half-century.
The user-led disability arts organisation Shape has secured £142,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) for the development stages of a project that should eventually see a website, an e-learning site and a physical home for artefacts from the movement.
These artefacts could include banners, publications, tee-shirts, photographs, badges and video footage from some of the iconic protests of the last 50 years.
Shape hopes eventually to secure further funding of £840,000 from NLHF to complete the five-year project.
The plan is to focus on the years leading up to the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, but the project will also tell the story of the campaigns, actions and battles that spun off from that milestone over the last 25 years.
The idea for the National Disability Movement Archive and Collection (NDMAC) grew from another major heritage project led by Shape, the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA).
Last year, in the culmination of a project that had its origins more than 30 years earlier, Shape launched the NDACA archive and learning zone at the High Wycombe campus of Buckinghamshire New University, featuring more than 3,500 pieces of artwork, most of which was stored in digital or physical form in an archive repository.
Shape’s new project is set to mirror that work, which was also funded by NLHF.
NDMAC already has some historical documents, photographs and other artefacts that did not fit into the NDACA project.
Alex Cowan, NDMAC’s head of archives and collections, who was also NDACA’s archivist, is now looking for stories and objects that tell the story of the two decades that led up to the passing of the DDA in 1995.
He said: “I am not expecting it to be a collecting mission without controversy.
“We are interested in every possible take on what went on.”
For example, he wants to hear from both sides of the persistent argument over whether the DDA was a significant step forward for the movement or served only to frustrate demands for a genuine disabled people’s civil rights bill.
Cowan told Disability News Service: “We will be going to potential depositors, working out what is out there to tell the story.
“Just like NDACA, the National Lottery Heritage Fund are not interested in dusty boxes on shelves; they are interested in narratives and stories, both individual and collective.”
Among the items Cowan is keen to source are original videos and films of direct action protests, including those of disabled activists who chained themselves to buses in the early 1990s.
He said: “Modern audiences particularly are much more likely to come along if there is something visual as a starter. It is a powerful draw.
“Protest ephemera, such as the banners made by Disabled People Against Cuts… works particularly well for younger audiences.”
The physical home of the archive and collection will be at Shape’s offices in an accessible building in Peckham, south London
Cowan said: “There will be a fully-functional website, with lots of stuff available digitally, and there will be the physical repository where fragile, valuable or non-digitisable objects can be stored. It will double up as a study centre.”
NDMAC’s home will be a place that disabled people, academics and others can visit to see some of the historical artefacts of the movement.
Cowan said the project had been given added importance by the pandemic crisis.
He said: “I think it’s important, given the austerity from the past 10 years and the new austerity narrative that I suspect will come back after coronavirus, which is always biased against disabled people.
“It is this type of heritage story of politics we will be trying to capture and re-tell.
“There is also the general dissatisfaction with politics at the moment from many disabled people, after Brexit and the last general election.
“Referring back to previous disabled people’s movements and times is an important educational process and allows people to think about their relationship with society and inclusiveness.
“I think it’s an important reminder that agitation and political campaigning do yield results – and that is the heritage story we want to capture.
“They are never perfect, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for them or be cynical about them when you succeed. It just informs the next level of struggle.”
Picture: A Disabled People Against Cuts protest
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