Audio description of the display

The Display

On 27th April there was a launch event and at the event, Alun Davies, one of the activists featured in the exhibition and research gave the following speech.

A few words to link the achievements and work of the Disabled people’s movement in Bristol over the last 33 years with the present and future.

Good evening, everyone. My name is Alun Davies. I am very honored to be one of the activists in this exhibition. I am also the chair of the Bristol Disability Equality Commission. I have been asked to say a few words to link the achievements and work of the Disabled people’s movement in Bristol over the last 33 years with the present and future.

I want to begin by saying a huge congratulations and thank you to the Forging Our future steering group for making the exhibition happen, the Bristol Disability Equality Forum for getting the funding and the city council for their support.  The project has done a brilliant job in capturing the essence and history of the work of many Disabled people to bring about Disability Equality not just in this city but across the country.

I said when I started, I was asked to link the achievements of the movement over the last 33 years. For me these are clear and undeniable. Working together individual Disabled people and organisations run and controlled by Disabled people successfully lobbied Avon County Council and then the four councils who replaced it to adopt Disability Equality policies, some of the earliest councils in the country to do so. Equally important the councils agreed to support accountable forums of Disabled people to engage with. At a time when consultation with Disabled people was almost exclusively with carers and groups not controlled by Disabled people this was almost revolutionary. Disabled people from Avon were leaders in campaigning for anti-discrimination legislation for Disabled people. While the Disability Discrimination Act was nothing like as strong as we wanted, the fact that we now have law that makes it unlawful to discriminate against Disabled people is a huge thing. Especially when you remember back in 1983 the then minister for Disabled people – a certain John Major – said in Parliament “The Disabled don’t need rights, they just need goodwill”!

The achievements were just as significant, and even more important to the direct lives of Disabled people, at a service level. Avon and its successor councils were amongst the first in Britain to develop Direct Payment schemes for Disabled people. These schemes have empowered hundreds of Disabled people to have choice and control over their lives. Bristol was one of the first cities in the mid 1990’s to rule that all its Hackney licensed taxis must be wheelchair accessible, and there are more and more buses across the area accessible to people who use wheelchairs and have audio announcements for people with a visual impairment. Many private and public sector buildings and services are much more accessible to all Disabled people both in terms of their buildings and services. And many groups of Disabled people came in to being to work together, including Bristol People First, the Survivors network and many others.

It is impossible of course for an exhibition of this scale to recognize everyone who has played their part and continue to do so. We must remember and acknowledge them, as we must those who are sadly no longer with us but without whom we would not be where we are. Please take a moment to remember amongst many Elizabeth Standon, Anne Pugh, Heather Heuston, Julie Williams, Lesley Kelly, Les tempest and Dennis Casling.

The individuals recorded in this exhibition all played their part in the movement in the city, many of them making speeches, taking part in demonstrations, organising and leading. We must not though forget that the leaders could only be leaders if they had unsung heroes around them. One of the things that inspired me and gave me the strength to go on in some very difficult times was how individual Disabled people again and again without seeking praise or thanks did the thankless tasks without which any campaign for change simply won’t succeed. Their unflagging commitment, passion and energy humbled me then and does so to this day.

What this makes me understand is that there is a part for everyone to play and everyone can play a part bringing about equality and social justice. Handcuffing yourself to a bus, making a speech and going to meetings are really important, but equally   never underestimate how just getting someone to understand the best way to offer you help in the most empowering way is a victory for social change. All the little things add up to lots of big things.

And there are lots of parts still to play in making Disability Equality a reality in this city. The challenges many Disabled people face are huge.  Disabled people were especially hard hit by covid, and the economic consequences of the pandemic which we are all living through now will hit Disabled people both in terms of real money to them and services they receive.  Discrimination and injustice still happen every day both in terms of individual acts of disablism and a failure to provide a service that is accessible and equal.

So, we have a long way to go before every Disabled person in this city will be able to say they are proud to live here because they feel and are treated equally and fairly. We must though have this as our aim and mission. It is what the Disability Equality Commission is committed to do and is what has underpinned all the Movement’s  activism over the last thirty-three years. And it is a commitment that hundreds of Disabled people and their organisations in this city also share and have been working for and will carry on doing long before and after the commission.

Because of the passion and energy for change I constantly see and hear from Disabled people and their organisations and the work that is going on I am very positive about the future. Across the city Disabled people whatever their impairment, intersectionality or background are actively taking part in our community. The fact that it is young Disabled people who have led this project is massively encouraging to me. One of the things the Movement  did not do that well was bringing young people through to carry on the work. It is brilliant that this is now happening.  I am very proud to have played my own tiny part in the last thirty-years of working for equality and justice for Disabled people in this city. Can I say not just to the young Disabled people in this room but all Disabled people who are working for change it is worth it. We have improved the lives of Disabled people in this city since 1989 and you will carry this on and make it even better. Thank you.

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