Whilst some Disabled activists are calling for a re-examination of the social model of disability, Dennis Queen, disabled activist and singer song writer remembers her first encounter with this life changing concept.
I still remember how the social model understanding of disability helped me begin to make sense of my life, and the world. And here’s how it happened …
Even as a small child, I knew that people thought I was ‘wrong’ as a person – sort of damaged or broken. People kept trying to make me be more like everyone else and I was treated badly because I couldn’t conform. I thought that it was all my fault because people effectively blamed me for being ‘broken’.
In the late 1990s a disabled activist told me about the ‘Social Model of Disability’ and the epic story of how it came into being in the 1970s.
She told me I was not to blame for how I am treated – and that other people of all kinds who are seen as broken, or ‘impaired’, face similar oppression too. Many of them have formed a movement and work together to fight for changes like choices, control, inclusion, access, and freedom; everyone is welcome, and nobody is ‘wrong’.
This ‘disabled people’s movement’ challenged the causes of the harm, or oppression, that happens to us. The social model calls that oppression ‘disability’, and says it is caused by the barriers imposed within the world around us and its people.
I was so excited to find out that we can fight back together against our shared oppression. Straight away, I joined my local Disabled People’s Organisation, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) where I learned to help with campaigns and make music about our work. I fought for the things that allow me to be part of our society. I learned to say: “I am disabled” (and share an oppression) and to celebrate our work together proudly. I was taught so much by so many amazing disabled activists, both there and around the U.K, all who are my heroes.
Over 20 years later, I still get a buzz telling people about the exciting story of the social model of disability, and how it brings all kinds of different people together to fight for our freedom and human rights.
This life changing, world changing idea has brought thousands of disabled people of all kinds together to campaign. For almost 50 years the social model still steers us towards asking the right questions when we are faced with oppression. Long may the social model continue to help disabled people fight back together, until all our people are free to live in dignity, with respect and with rights.
Dennis Queen, Disabled activist