Disability History Month 2021 - What it is & Why you should know about it
We all know the festive holidays overwhelm this time of year. So, it’s no surprise that Disability History month (DHM) – which runs between mid-November and Mid-December annually - has a continually low profile. But, 4 years on from first discovering the event, it still feels unfairly under-championed in comparison to other awareness months.
An Introduction to Disability History Month
Disability History was launched in 2010 thanks to the collaborative work between disabled activists, and a range of organisations across the education, charity, public and private sectors. The event was designed to raise awareness of inequalities towards disabled people, to share the history of that inequality & disabled activism, and to advocate for equality and inclusion.
Although the possibility of a Disability History week was brought up in 2009, the timescale of when disabled activists in the UK first conceived of a Disability History Month is unknown. Regardless, the interest in a DHM would certainly have been bolstered when the profile of Black History & LGBT History months rose.
This year the DHM is running from the 18th of November to the 18th of December. The event has two themes: Relationships & Sex, and Hidden Impairments. A range of events on these themes will be held across the country, both virtually and in person.
The Importance Today
It is vital to recognise Disability History in 2021. The theme of ‘Hidden Impairments’ is particularly relevant: as we reel from the effects of the pandemic while still having no formal health consensus on the ‘long-covid’ that some people experience post-infection.
The pandemic has an incalculable impact on disabled people. Some people found that the pressure of isolation in lockdown revealed previously undiscovered disabilities and led them to seek diagnosis for the first time. This experience has been particularly common in relation to neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD and Tourette’s. Unfortunately, these diagnostic trends have resulted in rather predictable media cynicism.
The experience of the pandemic has also aligned able-bodied people more closely with disabled people’s experiences.
In the working world, the ‘Great Resignation’ has come from employees evaluating the mental, emotional and even physical risks their workplace poses to their health - complex evaluations common for disabled people - and questioning what role work can, and should, have in their lives. Employees are advocating for employers to continue their flexible and home working set-ups: and these requests are often more seriously considered than when disabled people asked for them as workplace rights. Even the less widespread call for a Universal Basic Income would be more beneficial for disabled people than able-bodied beneficiaries.
Though the pandemic has entrenched existing inequalities, it has also offered an opportunity for empathy, education and dialogue between able-bodied and disabled people. Our society has now collectively experienced a portion of the vulnerability, loneliness and isolation already common for disabled people. I can’t deny that fear and denial of disability have been at the heart of the worst responses to the pandemic. Nor that it has escalated some people’s discrimination towards disabled people.
But, however naively, I hope that the pandemic has also broadened the range of people who are willing to learn & contribute to disabled history. The context of our time in Disability History should be more widely explored. Then, we can increase awareness & mobilise activism for disabled people.
Neurodiversity in Disability history.
When developing this blog, I was particularly interested to explore how the history of neurodiversity intersected with wider Disability History. However, I couldn’t find anything that integrated these topics. General Disability History information is scarce enough, often narrowing in on the work of activists with more visible disabilities, or isolated figures.
DHM have always acknowledged the place of neurodiversity and other currently segmented types of disability within their organisation – as I’m sure plenty of other Disability movements have. All I can say is I hope that all Disability History will soon become more widely available and recognised. When it does, we can trace the history of collaboration between people within different spheres of disability activism. And carry that collaboration into the future.
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