A number of us at PurpleSpace cut our teeth on disability politics through the work of esteemed academic Professor Mike Oliver who died this week. When we launched PurpleSpace back in 2015, we discussed the language that we would use to reflect the experiences of PurpleSpace members and supporters and we felt that the concept of the ‘social model of disability’ first coined by Mike Oliver in 1983, was still relevant.
In its most simplistic term the social model suggests that a person is not disabled by a medically defined condition but by the attitude and structure of society. So at PurpleSpace we talk about ‘disabled employees’ in a social model context, for example a member of staff is disabled where an inaccessible policy is a barrier to promotion or an inaccessible website is a barrier to recruitment.
Our CEO Kate Nash OBE, shares her thoughts on Mike’s impact and influence on her.
“You know life is funny. Ten years ago I used to be criticised for working with employers who have not always had our best interests at heart (as disabled employees) and yet I always knew that the next phase of our collective journey would be characterised by us organising ourselves as employees in employment. And by us thinking about ways by which we could bolster our inner confidence in order to build sustained change.
The amazing late Mike Oliver, author of 'The Politics of Disablement' knew that too. I remember him once saying 'there is something in what you are saying Nash, just keep going.' So I did. His heart and values are at the heart of PurpleSpace. His work changed my understanding of disability and of what it means to be human. His work made me and helped me set up PurpleSpace. He was not a close friend but he was of those I love deeply and respect.
My thoughts are with all of you who knew him better and who worked with him and for his family. For all of you who pushed those boundaries. A huge loss. A light has gone out. So very sad. Rest in peace amazing Mike who changed so many of our lives."
Michael Oliver, 3 February 1945 – 3 March 2019
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