Disabled speak out

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Low expectations and negative attitudes are among the main barriers facing people with disabilities, a new teaching resource reveals. Speaking for Ourselves, an oral history of disabled people created by Scope and held at the British Library Sound Archive, aims to raise awareness of discrimination and show how disabled people's lives have changed over the past 50 years.

Common stories are of children with cerebral palsy being rejected at birth and of parents being told their children were ineducable or incapable of living independently. Lin Berwick, a lecturer, journalist, broadcaster, homeopath, Methodist preacher and counsellor, recalls a neurologist telling her mother: "Take her home and forget about her, she'll never be any good."

Antonia Lister Kaye, another of the 30 interviewees, all aged over 50, thinks children today will be "horrified" by the testimonies. "Things are much better now than 50 years ago," she says. Having cerebral palsy, she says, made her tough. After disastrous school experiences, she graduated from Durham and London universities, became a lecturer in England and South Africa, and brought up three children. She works as a counsellor but still confronts ignorance and prejudice.

Another contributor, Pat Entwistle, tells his interviewer his head was patted so much he was surprised it wasn't flat. He trained as a gardener and worked in a factory. In 1986, he was awarded an MBE for voluntary work on the Transport Users Consultative Committee and other bodies.

Merle Davies says: "It was great to have the chance to tell the story of my life so far. For too long the experiences of people with cerebral palsy have been hidden."

Richard Rieser, director of Disability Equality in Education, which contributed to the resource, believes disabled people are still struggling against negative attitudes. "The evidence is there of bullying and segregation," he says.

* A free pack for schools can be requested from www.speakingforourselves.org.uk

* A one-day conference, What works? Educating disabled children for life, will be held in London on June 20 2006. See back page for details.

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