Marking 40 years of supporting disabled people


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Marking 40 years of supporting disabled people.

As Possability People celebrates 40 years of supporting disabled people, we look at the history of the disabled people’s movement in the UK. Some of the terms and language in this article might be shocking, but it was the language used at the time.

Late 19 and early 20 Century

For much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, disabled people were views as separate from wider society with many scientists believing eugenic theories would improve the long term ‘quality’ of the human race by effectively breeding out people with physical or mental impairments.

Although disabled people were still ‘other’, The First World War arguably sparked much of the progress of the 20th century. Veterans returned injured in larger volumes than any previous war. Disabled people became an increasingly common sight.  Injured veterans couldn’t be viewed as having ‘faulty genetics’ any more, as was taught by eugenicists, and a small cultural shift in attitudes towards disability took place.

1919, The Central Council of Care

In 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. Their 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 – 1930

In 1920 the National League of the Blind marched in London to campaign for equal opportunities. Partly bowing to pressure from this march, the government supported the Blind Persons Act 1920, which requires local authorities to register blind people and make arrangements for their welfare.

In late 1920, a national society for lunacy law reform was established, largely consisting 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. It also replaced the term “asylum” with “mental hospital”. It was repealed by the Mental Health Act 1959.

1940 – 1950s

The Second World War was another key moment for civil rights. Labour shortages during the war meant that disabled people, who may previously have struggled to find work, became valued parts of the national workforce.

In 1944, the Disability Employment Act placed a duty on employers to ensure that at least 3% of roles were offered to disabled people.

Following the war, the government founded Remploy, which provided ‘sheltered work’ for disabled people in specially designed factories. By 1953, Remploy employed over 6,000 people in 90 factories across the UK,


In 1970, The Local Authority Social Services Act created a single social services dept in each LA.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was introduced by North West MP for Labour, Alf Morris. It was the first parliamentary act in the world to recognise and give rights to disabled people. Local authorities were 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 gave disabled people the right to equal access to recreational and educational facilities, including help with travel.

Councils had a duty to provide educational facilities for children who were both blind and Deaf, later extended to include autism and dyslexia.

Buildings open to the public were required to provide parking and toilet facilities for disabled people.

Disabled driver badges for cars with introduced with exemptions for parking and other access.

In 1972 Alf Morris becomes first disability minister.


The term ‘Social Model of Disability’ was used by Mike Oliver in the 1980s, to describe the systemic barriers, derogatory attitudes, and social exclusion (intentional or inadvertent), which make it difficult or impossible for people with impairments to live their lives. In this model, the word impairment is used to refer to the actual attributes (or lack of attributes) that affect a person, such as the inability to walk or breathe independently. The word disability is used to refer to the restrictions caused by society when it does not give equivalent attention and accommodation to the needs of individuals with impairments.[1]

In 1986 – The Disabled Persons Act strengthened the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and required local authorities to meet the various needs of disabled people.

The 1990s

Disability Living Allowance was introduced 1992.

In 1995, protests by disabled people lead to the landmark introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). This made 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.

The Disability Rights Act in 1995 made it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their disability


Bowing to pressure from the National Centre for Independent Living and the Independent Living Movement, in 1996, the government made 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.


In 2001,  The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act extended anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people to cover education providers.

In 2004, the legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to make buildings accessible came into effect.

In 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 quality and ‘involve’ them in the design of services and policies.

The Welfare Reform Bill in 2011 proposed the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments.

The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are held in the United Kingdom in 2012. Extensive media coverage by Channel 4 portrays disabled people winning medals as elite athletes.

The 21st century has seen more progress, with the wide televising of recent Paralympics raising the profile of disabled athletes amongst the general public, and politicians like Jane Campbell and Anne Begg providing a voice in the Houses of Parliament and Lords.

Photo: Photo by British Library on Unsplash


  1. Pam Thomas; Lorraine Gradwell; Natalie Markham. “Defining Impairment within the Social Model of Disability” (PDF). Retrieved 10 November 2012.


East Sussex Advice

Possability People’s Advice Line in East Sussex line is now able to take and support enquiries for benefits, Personal Independence Payments, form filling, Work Capability Assessment forms, Mandatory Reconsiderations and Blue Badge forms.


Eastbourne Access Group’s 40 Anniversary


Eastbourne Access Group are also 40 this year. To mark their anniversary, they are holding an with Eastbourne Blind Society called Access barriers and solutions in Eastbourne for disabled customers.

It takes place on Wednesday 28 July 2021, from 10am – 4pm at

Victoria Baptist Church, 7, Eldon Road, Eastbourne, BN21 1UE.

Guest speakers representing retail and hospitality (including online services) will identify and address some of the main barriers experienced by disabled people when using Eastbourne’s facilities or shopping online. Questions and comments will be welcomed so that the widest range of experiences is included in the discussions.

Celebrating good practice, they’d love to hear examples where staff or buildings have removed barriers to disabled people. If you’d like to share your good experiences, and for more details about the event, including booking a place, please email or phone 01323 729511.