Voluntary Action History
30 January 2012  
Gareth Millward (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Disability and Voluntarism in Britain, 1965-1995: an effective force in policy making?


Ted Heath (wikipedia)

Ted Heath (wikipedia)

Go back to the 1970s and you might see Ted Heath riding around on a ‘Noddy’ car.  Depending on which generation you come from you will either know what this is or not.

What has this got to do with a History SPOT podcast I hear you ask?  Well, the voluntary action history seminar held a session back in January 2012 in which Gareth Millward mentioned Ted Heath’s ride in a Noddy car as part of a talk on the role of voluntary organisations in the adaptation of disability legislation between the 1960s and 1990s.  It seems, on this occasion at least; only through practical experience did politicians listen to those arguing that the Noddy car was unsafe.  The car was withdrawn soon afterwards.

In this paper Millward investigates the political climate leading up to the disability acts and in particular the role of various types of voluntary organisations and individual networks that played a role either through lobbying or via provision of expert evidence.  Millward looks at the topic through the lens of the polar-opposite models of the medical (i.e. that disability is a medical issue) and social (that disability is a construct of society and that the main issue is that a person cannot perform a specific social function and thus is discriminated against).  These models formed the bank-bane to discussions, debates and lobbying around the issue of disability.

A 'Noddy car' or invalid Carriage c. 1976 (wikipedia)

A ‘Noddy car’ or invalid Carriage c. 1976 (wikipedia)

Several organisations are singled out as particularly important to the discussion.  First are those organisations who actively lobbed government through the use of academic research.  First are the Disability Income Group (DIG) who were founded in 1965, then the Disability Alliance and Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) both founded and active in the 1970s.  Then there are the groups formed by those actually with disabilities some of which were not prone to lobbying or playing politics but to actively helping those who needed their help on the local or national level.  This second group included the Union of Physically impaired against Segregation who would later become part of the British Council of Organisations of disabled people.  The third group were societies such as the Spastics Society (now renamed SCOPE).

Millward’s podcast is well worth listening to if you have even a passing interest in the subject.  Taken in context of other podcasts by the Voluntary Action History seminar it acts as a reminder that history is not just an academic subject to be studied but a subject that should enable debate on current day affairs.  Great strides have occurred in enabling people with disabilities to overcome those difficulties and reach an equal level of activity in society.  However, there is more work to be done and podcasts such as these can be taken to help formulate new debates and discussions based upon older ones.

To listen to this podcast click here.