The importance of Disability History Month
Posted 14th November 2023 by Kathryn Downs, Teacher of Maths at Dixons Unity Academy
Disability History Month (DHM) takes place between 16 November and 16 December 2023. It is an annual event which allows us the opportunity to consider the lived experiences of disabled and neurodiverse people historically, examine our current policies and perspectives around disability, and explore how as a society we can make the future fairer, remove barriers and ensure true equity for all disabled people. It also aims to improve representation and visibility for all disabled and neurodiverse people. For myself, as a disabled, autistic person, it is also a chance to share the stories of those who fought for the rights we have today and the barriers we are still fighting against. Every year, there is a different theme, and for 2023 the theme is Disability, Childhood and Youth.
DHM is based on the perspective of the social model of disability. The social model of disability is really important because it considers that the barriers many disabled and neurodiverse people face in their daily lives are created by society rather than the individual themselves. It often involves flipping your own perspective from what is known as the medical model, where the individual’s condition is viewed as the barrier. In the classroom, changing your perspective to the social model of disability can be life changing for students and transform your practice. It also normalises ensuring a place for everyone in society.
Disabled and neurodiverse people make up approximately 25% of the UK working population. Yet representation of disabled and neurodiverse people across different settings such as TV, social media, education, careers and workplaces is disproportionate, with disabled and neurodiverse people hugely under-represented. Without fair representation, some of our students will never have role models they can look up to that share the same experiences as them, to inspire them to continue on their journey through life successfully. Similarly, without understanding the lived experiences of others, we cannot remove the stereotyping and stigma that is faced in society by disabled and neurodiverse people. DHM is an opportunity to showcase and reflect on our representation of disabled and neurodiverse people across our curriculum, enrichment and pastoral offers. Perhaps for you, DHM is the opportunity to reflect on whether what we offer our students is truly reflective of society. Does it give the opportunity for our students to explore the lived experience of disabled and neurodiverse people? Does it give them an opportunity to see people like them taking part in everyday life, achieving goals on their journeys? Does it ensure it is done in a way where it normalises the disabled person’s right to achieve and avoids ableist language such as ‘despite their disabilities’? We as disabled people don’t succeed ‘despite our disabilities’, we succeed because we are people.
DHM is also a great time to explore some of the aspects of important disability history that often go unheard and unknown that are vital to understanding the fight for equality. Some of these could involve exploring Aktion T4, the creation of disability sport, the fight for fair access to public transport in the 1990s, or the impact of eugenics. There is also a wealth of amazing intersectional activists you could introduce to your students, such as Rosa Luxembourg, Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, Chloe Hayden and Janine Booth. DHM could be an opportunity for you to challenge yourself to explore an aspect of disability history you haven’t heard about before and reflect on how it changes your perspective of the world. Hopefully it is also an opportunity for everyone to make Disability History Month visible across all our academies and an essential part of our school calendar every year.
*Please note that I have used the term, disabled people, as this is how I prefer to be known, as do many in the community. Some people prefer person-centred language, people with disabilities. If you are unsure, please always ask the person you are talking to which they prefer.