A history of disability rights in the UK.

This is a timeline of what I see as important events in disability rights history for both raising awareness of disability and gaining disability rights post world war one to the 2012 London Paralympics

Before and some time after world war one people with disability’s were treated awfully from the lunacy act 1845 to the idiots act 1846. There was so many other nasty little acts.

Post world war one  

  • 1918 – Awareness of physical impairments is heightened as the troops start coming home after the first world war. Many of these troops returned with physical and mental impairments such as, lost limbs, blindness, deafness or suffer severe mental trauma or brain damage due to the four-year conflict.
  • 1919 – The Central Council of Care made up of medical professionals was set up to care for the tens of thousands of injured ex-servicemen returning from the first world war. These medical professionals aim was to cure the ex-servicemen in order to reduce the “burden” on society. (The Central Council of Care later became Disability Rights UK)
  • 1920 – Partly bowing to pressure from a march of blind workers, the government supports the Blind Persons Act 1920, which requires local authorities to register blind people and make arrangements for their welfare. Later that year a national society for lunacy law reform is established that largely consisted of angry former patients. (lunacy law 1885)
  • 1930 – A Mental Treatment Act (1930) brings in the concept of voluntary patients and recommends out-patient clinics and observation wards.
  • 1944 – The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act sets up a quota system requiring employers with 20 or more employees to ensure that at least 3% of their workforce are disabled people. Also in that year the Education Act concedes that mainstream schools are likely to be the most appropriate environment in which to teach disabled children.
  • 1948 – 5 July, the NHS was launched by Aneurin Bevan the then Health Secretary for Labour. So for the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella to provide services for free at the point of delivery.

  • 1970 – The Local Authority Social Services Act creates a single social services department in each local authority area in England and Wales. The departments are responsible for providing services such as, residential homes and social care. Also in that year the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, introduced by North West MP for Labour Alf Morris, this was the first in the world to recognise and give rights to disabled people. Local authorities are given the responsibility of providing welfare services, housing, practical assistance for people in their own homes, meals (provided at home or community centres) and adaptations to people’s homes. The Act also gives disabled people the right to equal access to recreational and educational facilities, including help with travel. Councils have a duty to provide educational facilities for children who are both blind and Deaf, later extended to include autism and dyslexia. Buildings open to the public are required to provide parking and toilet facilities for disabled people. Disabled driver badges for cars are introduced with exemptions for parking and other access.
Alf Morris Mp
Alf Morris MP (Labour)

  • 1972 – Alf Morris becomes first disability minister.
  • 1981 – The United Nations designates 1981 as ‘The International Year for Disabled People’. Disabled people do not play a large part in most of its key events. Their response is to challenge the ‘for’ of the Year and insist on the ‘of’ aiming at self-organisation. Disabled People’s International is formed this year and now has consultative status with the United Nations.
The International Year for Disabled People
The International Year for Disabled People 1981
  • 1986 – The Disabled Persons Act strengthens the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and requires local authorities to meet the various needs of disabled people.
  • 1992- Disability Living Allowance is introduced (Read history of welfare state in the United Kingdom)
  • 1995 – Protests by disabled people lead to the landmark introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). This makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises. Service providers must now make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access their service.
  • 1996 – Bowing to pressure from the National Centre for Independent Living and the Independent Living Movement, the government makes direct payments for social care legal in The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act. Direct payments lay the foundations for self-directed support, upon which initiatives such as personal budgets are now building.
  • 2001 – The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act extends anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people to cover education providers.
  • 2004 – The legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to make buildings accessible comes into effect.
  • 2005 – The Disability Discrimination (Amendment) Act extends protection to land, transport, small employers and private clubs, extends the definition of disability and introduces a duty for public bodies to promote disabled people’s equality and ‘involve’ them in the design of services and policies.
  • 2010 – The UK Government ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. It applies to the 12 million disabled children and adults in the UK. Also in this year The Equality Act is passed by Parliament days before the general election. It outlaws direct or indirect discrimination and harassment in employment, vocational education and the provision of goods and services, for a total of nine protected characteristics including disability. It also outlaws discrimination because of association with a disabled person or because of the perception that someone is disabled.
  • 2011 – The Welfare Reform Bill proposes the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments.
  • 2012 –The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are held in the United Kingdom. Extensive media coverage by Channel 4 portrays disabled people winning medals as elite athletes.

Throughout history people with disabilities have struggled for rights and better recognition In society and world-wide.


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4 Replies to “A history of disability rights in the UK.”

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