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UK Disability History Month

Micheal Oliver

photograph of Mike Oliver Michael Oliver (3 February 1945 –2 March 2019) was a British sociologist, author and disability rights activist.

He was the first Professor of Disability Studies in the world. He broke his neck in 1962 diving into a swimming pool and was a wheelchair user following this accident. Mike founded the international Journal Disability and Society and was a pioneer of Disability Studies in universities. He was an active member of the Spinal Injuries Association and BCODP

While Mike did not invent the underlying concepts which comprised the social model, he refined ideas which first appeared in 1976. He would use these ideas as the basis for the social model. The Social Model of Disability is the concept that disability results from the interaction between a person’s characteristics and their unsuitable environment – not their medical condition. 

An environment filled with barriers will create a significant difference in experience for a large number of disabled people. Conversely, an inclusive environment will offer the minimum level of intrusion for everyone but enable disabled people to live their lives equally. 

To improve the experiences of disabled people, you don’t need to medically ‘fix’ everyone, but to think practically about what the goals are and removing environmental barriers.  

In a Scope blog, the professor explained “.... I realised that I didn’t have to take responsibility because it wasn’t my problem. Society installed steps in the first place and I wasn’t the one who created barriers preventing me from participating in the same things as my non-disabled friends.” 

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