If you have heard of the ‘social model of disability’ that is because of Mike Oliver. He didn’t invent the idea, but he was the person who named it and described it in a way that made it easy to understand.
Mike, who died on 2 March, was a lifelong teacher and activist on disability. When he broke his neck in 1962 age just 17, he didn’t have any big expectations about his future. A chance to work at a local young offenders’ institution led him into the world of education and to
As an academic, first at Kent and then at the University of Greenwich, Mike taught social workers, teachers and allied health professionals. He wrote and lectured prolifically. He was a supportive mentor, helping many people to develop their careers.
In his activism Mike advocated for self-determination for disabled people, so that we could control our own organisations and control our own day to day lives. He supported direct action to challenge discrimination. He helped to found the national disability rights organisation, British Council of Disabled People. (There is a Camden connection: BCODP was launched at the Kingsgate Centre.)
Mike was a great communicator. His work became known not just in the UK but around the world. Through it, many thousands of disabled people could see that the frustrations they had experienced in their lives were not individual problems, they were collective ones and could be removed by collective action. Since he died there have been hundreds of tributes from people who were influenced by him.
Away from activism and academic life, Mike was a great host. He enjoyed music and sport (Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Arsenal in particular). He loved to gather with friends and family for a barbeque or for a day at the races. He always had time to offer support or to talk politics. He is deeply missed.
Frances is the CEO of Healthwatch Camden a partner organisation in the CDA/Camden CIL network, and both a colleague and friend of Mike Oliver