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Text by Jen Kavanagh
Disabled people in Kingston have been at the forefront of the Disability Rights Movement since the 1960s. In 2017, Kingston Centre for Independent Living (KCIL) embarked on an oral history project, called ‘Fighting for our Rights’, to collect the stories of those who have taken direct action and influenced positive change. This display celebrates some of these amazing and inspiring individuals. To hear their stories in full, along with many others, visit www.kingstonfightingforourrights.co.uk.
Baroness Jane Campbell DBE is a member of the House of Lords and a senior figure in the Disability Rights Movement. Determined that living independently in the community as a disabled person was achievable, Jane worked with Ann Macfarlane to propose and pilot an independent living scheme in Kingston in the late 1980s, paving the way for Direct Payments for people in the borough. Jane chairs the national Independent Living Strategy Group and continues to advocate for equality and better care.
In our minds, we set independent living up thinking this would not be a pilot for very long, that it would become a choice, it would be what was on the menu of what was offered to disabled people.
Ali Kashmiri has been a campaigner and advocate for disability rights from a young age. Having joined Kingston Association of Disabled People, now KCIL, aged just 18, Ali has since worked for a number of London boroughs as an access advisor. In his youth, he took to the streets with the Campaign for Better Transport, using direct action to successfully demand improved accessibility. Ali has fought hard for his rights to own a home and have a career, despite the challenges of living with spinal muscular atrophy.
I got involved in the disability movement, not because I wanted to or because I felt it was all I wanted to do, but because I thought, hang on, why have we got all these barriers, what’s going on?
Brian Gaff is a prominent member of Kingston’s blind and partially sighted community and an active campaigner, having been visually impaired for most of his life. Brian is a member of Kingston Association for the Blind’s committee, and leads on producing the town’s Talking Newspaper. This weekly audio newspaper enables local people with visual impairments to stay up to date with current affairs, both within Kingston and nationally.
I’ve got involved in a lot of local things. I mean there were things like when they moved pedestrian crossings and they didn’t move the tactile marking straightaway…they just leave it where it was and then blind people would come along and try to cross where there wasn’t a crossing!
Pat Page became disabled following a car accident in 1984. Quickly learning about the challenges faced by wheelchair users, Pat became involved with advising organisations across the borough on access policy making, including the recent creation of a Disability Equality Scheme for Kingston Hospital. Pat has offered disability awareness training for businesses, ensuring companies are aware of what provision is required, and supports peers from the disabled community to have their voice heard.
It doesn’t come as second nature to people to consider people with impairments. In some cases you do have to fight for it, but it is quite exhausting to constantly remind people and justify why you need something.
Jennifer Carpenter lost her sight in 1991, over a period of just three weeks. Dealing with this life changing disability as well as being the mother to a young son, Jennifer sought advice from Kingston Association for the Blind and soon became a proactive member of the blind community. In 1995, she established an advice service called Eye Contact, which offered support and assistance with accessing local services. The group wanted to ensure that others who experienced rapid sight loss received the help they needed.
My main concern was I wanted to support other people who were suffering sight loss. So in my bedroom, on my little cassette recorder, I started recording how you can get benefits, who you can contact, what can you do.
Sheila Cannings became disabled due to medical malpractice in her third pregnancy. She had to re-learn who she was and how to manage the challenges of daily life with an impairment, along with looking after a new baby and young family. Sheila became involved with the Crescent Resource Centre in New Malden, for adults with physical impairments. She became chair of the Members Committee for some years before the Centre closed. Sheila has been determined to live a full life, including taking part in a tandem skydive for charity.
I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of inspiring people that have had to deal with a lot more so, you know. And that’s what I say, you do learn from others…that strength and bite the bullet as they used to say, or just be obstinate at times when you need to be!
Ann Macfarlane has been campaigning for disability rights for over 30 years, and is passionate about the right to live independently. Frustrated by the care she was receiving in her 20s and wanting to live in her own flat, Ann worked with Jane Campbell to propose an independent living scheme to Kingston Council in the late 1980s. This innovative scheme has since transformed the lives of thousands of people across the borough. Ann is now the patron for Kingston Centre for Independent Living and remains a strong spokesperson in the community.
Well I was terrified because I’d never done anything like that before, and thinking of employing people, oh it was mind boggling. But we were determined and I really got excited about the whole idea.
To hear their stories in full, along with many others, visit www.kingstonfightingforourrights.co.uk.