South East Leadership Academy

Disability Month 22nd November – 22 December 2021

Welcome to the South East Region page for disability History month. We will be sharing stories, resources and events throughout this month to raise awareness and advance disability equality. 

What is Disability History Month?

Calendar of events

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Disability Network Chairs Development Programme

In over 1.3 million NHS workers, only about four per cent declare their disability status on the Electronic Staff Record (ESR), but a twenty-one per cent data gap is filled by the ‘unknown’ and ‘not disclosed’ categories (NHS Digital, 2021).

You play a crucial role in cultural development of an organisation by creating an inclusive and diverse working environment that encourages visibility, respect and equity for staff with disabilities.

The networks also provide a safe space for staff to find connections with each other, share experiences, and promote ways to raise and discuss concerns. However, organisational pressures, scarcity of resources, and a lack of dedicated time for network activities often become the barriers to the networks’ growth, and/or barriers to meaningful engagement from staff 

In February 2021 we launched The Disability Network Chairs Development Programme (DNCDP) which was funded by NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES).

Workforce Disability Equality Standard

The Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) is a set of ten specific measures (metrics) which enables NHS organisations to compare the workplace and career experiences of Disabled and non-disabled staff. NHS organisations use the metrics data to develop and publish an action plan. Year on year comparison enables NHS organisations to demonstrate progress against the indicators of disability equality (1).

Making a difference for Disabled staff

The WDES is important, because research shows that a motivated, included and valued workforce helps to deliver high quality patient care, increased patient satisfaction and improved patient safety (1).

The WDES enables NHS organisations to better understand the experiences of their Disabled staff and supports positive change for all existing employees by creating a more inclusive environment for Disabled people working and seeking employment in the NHS (1).

Definitions of disability

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as “if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” (2).

  • ‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial,
  • ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more or likely to last 12 months or more
  • a physical or mental impairment impacts on ability to do normal day to day activities and must be judged without the impact of social model of disability:  the barriers of attitude, environment and organisation cause most of the disabilism we face. Such thinking did not exist in most of the past with individuals and their impairments held responsible for the disadvantage and worse. Disabled people experienced being seen as bewitched, evil or punished by God. Disabled people were often viewed as perpetual children incapable of adult relationships (3).

However, in this era of Universal Human Rights we can look back and reinterpret the mistreatment, resulting from our systematic oppression caused by negative attitudes, ignorance and barriers. Such an examination of the past allows us to recognise what must actively change for disabled people to achieve equality (3).

Many disabled people have an invisible/hidden impairment now and in the past. They have been not viewed as disabled people but still been mistreated. Equally because of the negativity associated with impairment, many who can pass as non-disabled have chosen not to identify, even though this has caused them many difficulties. Common amongst this large group of disabled people are those with psychosocial impairments. These include autism or attention deficit; Cognitive or neurological impairments such as specific learning difficulty i.e. dyslexia, dyspraxia, or more general learning difficulties, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis or brain injury; mental health impairments such as anxiety, depression, shell shock/PTSD, bipolar or schizophrenia; metabolic impairments such as lupus, HIV, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, chronic fatigue, heart conditions, arthritis; hormonal conditions or sensory issues such as hearing loss, many visual conditions or speech and communication. More than half the 13.5 million people currently identified as disabled in the UK have hidden impairments (3).

For millenia disabled people were often desexualised, and viewed as perpetual children, incapable of adult relationships. More recently in the last 150 years the false science of Eugenics was ranged against us, sterilising us, segregating us in single sex institutions, denying us the right to married life and sexual relations and taking any children away from us as we were deemed not capable of being parents. The emotional pain and injustice of all this has been largely hidden from history. Within a few miles, wherever you live in the UK, there will be multiple examples to be uncovered in family trees, public records, public libraries where the records of asylums, long stay hospitals and social services can be found in archives (3).

Today all disabled children are entitled to Sex and Relationship Education and more confident generations of young disabled people are finding the joy of diverse sex and relationships with partners of their choice, but the lack of self-esteem that comes with a disempowering approach to disability can still cause huge harm including consent issues and abuse (3).

Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic disabled workers faced huge barriers getting into and staying in work, including significant difficulties in accessing reasonable adjustments, in spite of the fact that this is a legal duty for employers (3).

The pandemic, and the huge changes it has caused to our everyday lives, has exacerbated the barriers disabled people face. Not only have disabled people been disproportionately affected in terms of loss of life, with six in 10 Covid-19 related deaths being disabled people, but pre-existing workplace barriers have been accentuated by the pandemic (3).

The TUC commissioned in-depth research. In February 2021 we surveyed 2,003 disabled workers, or workers who have a health condition or impairment, or were shielding and who were in work at the start of the pandemic  (3).


One in eight disabled workers did not tell their employer about their disability, health condition or impairment, with many believing that telling their employer would lead to negative consequences.

Almost one in four of these (24 per cent) said that they did not tell their employer they were disabled because they thought that, as a direct consequence, they would be treated unfairly. And over a third (38 per cent) did not tell their employer because they were worried that if their employer knew they were a disabled worker they would think that they could not do their job.

These fears of being treated poorly are well founded. Our findings show that the prevalence of unfair treatment is alarmingly high. Around one third of disabled workers responding to our survey reported being treated unfairly at work because of their disability, health condition or impairment.

The research found that around one in eight disabled workers (13 per cent) were concerned their disability, health condition or impairment had affected how their performance would be assessed by their manager. A similar proportion (12 per cent) were concerned their disability, health condition or impairment had affected their chances of a promotion in the future. And 7 per cent had their commitment to their job questioned.

And one in 12 disabled workers (8 per cent) told us they had been subjected to bullying and/ or harassment, for example being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism or excessive monitoring at work.

Full Report (Link)

History of disability: Key facts in the uk

As the Second World War ended in 1945, public concern shifted to the 300,000 ex-servicemen and women and civilians who had been left disabled by the war (4).

Rehabilitation for all

The 1944 Disability Employment Act promised sheltered employment reserved occupations and employment quotas for disabled people. Initiatives to restore the fitness, mobility, daily living skills and morale of disabled servicemen and women spread to the rest of the disabled population. The new National Health Service extended rehabilitation services to workers disabled by industrial accidents (4).

World War II had put a high value on physical health and ability, but resulted in a large number of disabled ex servicemen needing support (4). © Wellcome Library, London

Direct action

Disabled people did not remain passive, and many campaigning disability charities formed in the 1940s and 50s. A new social movement was started by a ‘silent reproach’ march of disabled ex-servicemen in 1951(4).

In the 1960s and 70s, the civil rights movement in America inspired disabled groups to take direct action against discrimination, poor access and inequality. A ‘social’ rather than a ‘medical’ model of disability emerged and eventually, in 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was passed (4).

Inclusion and access

The new social model was concerned with people’s rights as members of society. The question of access was critical. Disabled people needed adaptations made to their environments if they were to be properly included. Separate facilities were built at first, but soon architects and planners took on the idea of ‘universal design’. They created buildings and landscapes which every person could use every part of (4).

The birth of the Paralympic Games

Great changes took place in sport. The inspirational refugee neurosurgeon, Ludwig Guttman (1899-1980), was in charge of Stoke Mandeville hospital Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Here, patients paralysed in the war began to compete against each other as part of a pioneering rehabilitation method (4).

In 1948 a wheelchair archery competition was held on the lawns of the hospital. In this humble way, the Paralympic Games was born. The Games are now the second biggest sporting event on earth, and many elite disabled athletes have become sporting icons in their own right (4).

The end of the asylum

The era of the asylum finally came to an end after a series of scandals revealed neglect and abuse. In 1981 the Jay Report promoted a care in the community programme for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs. Tens of thousands of people left the long-term hospitals and returned to mainstream communities (4).

The Victorian ideal of a safe institutional ‘asylum’ has been replaced by new visions of equality, inclusion and universal access. Their long-term impact will be seen in time (4).