Article: Ken Lumb - Telethon, Connecting the Means to the Ends (1992)
Celebrating UPIAS's 50th Anniversary: Part 4
About the Series:
The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) was formed in September 1972, after Paul Hunt wrote letters to different newspapers and magazines asking disabled people to help set up a new organisation.
Hunt first suggested that this should be a ‘consumer group’ to look at the different kinds of support disabled people were getting and decide which gave them the most control over their lives. UPIAS quickly became much more than that. The group brought together disabled people who were sick of being let down by poor housing, segregated education, campaigns about ‘disability’ that were led by non-disabled people, and new kinds of ‘help’ from charities and governments that didn’t bother to ask them what they needed or wanted.
They decided that they needed to get to the bottom of why disabled people got such a bad deal. Why were they so often poor? Why were physical buildings and public spaces built in a way that shut them out? why were they separated from non-disabled people in special Homes, hospitals, clubs, and transport? Why did non-disabled people think they had a right to make decisions about their lives?
During these discussions, they realised that this inequality had nothing to do with their bodies or minds being different to anyone else’s. With the state of technology and know-how in the 1970s, there was no reason why a wheelchair user, a blind person, someone with no hearing, a pain condition, etc, couldn’t get a job, an appropriate house adapted, or use public transport if it was adapted for their mobility needs. This meant that there is a difference between an impairment – a person’s body or mind being different to other people’s – and their disability – the fact that society is designed in such a way that they are stopped from doing what other people do.
This idea, later called the "social model of disability", inspired the Disabled People’s Movement in Britain and worldwide. UPIAS members understood that the only way to change their exclusion was to change society and that only disabled people could see what changes needed to be made. They brought the idea to their local work, setting up Coalitions and Centres for Integrated Living, and made the idea national when they helped form the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP). Through BCODP, the social model went global, when British delegates convinced members of the Disabled People’s International of their analysis in the early 1980s.
Despite these achievements, a lot of articles written by UPIAS members have been out of print for decades. To celebrate UPIAS’s influence on us as disabled activists, we will be publishing articles by UPIAS members each week for the next two months to help activists today better understand our history. Each article will be free to download, with large print and easier-to-read versions alongside a text only, screen-reader friendly version of the original.
Our article this week is from Ken Lumb, a member of both UPIAS and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and an editor of its magazine Coalition – which this article was written for.
In the early ‘90s, the Disabled People’s Movement was involved in a massive campaign against the patronising and offensive depictions of disabled people used by charities for fundraising events. This campaign reached its height in the huge demonstrations against Telethon – a television fundraising event – in 1992. Lumb sums up the arguments used by disabled activists against Telethon, before looking at the thorny issue of how Disabled People’s Organisations fund themselves. Some groups of activists, despite their dislike of disability charities, had felt that they had no option except to take money from them in order to survive. Lumb explains why he believes this is damaging to the movement as a whole, before arguing that the movement needs to find new ways to divide up work and resources amongst its member groups to protect them from outside influence.
Links to read these are below: