Who has the authority to write ‘our’ history

I just came across this interesting article from the disability news service. Disability activists fear a ‘whitewash’ after Leonard Cheshire Disability was awarded £300,000 to set up a project on the history of disabled people. Activists say that, given Leonard cheshire’s own rather checkered past, it does not have the authority to write such a history. The question I’d ask in response is, ”well, who does?”

There’s no denying Leonard Cheshire’s past. Like Scope they ran homes which virtually incarcerated disabled people like prisoners; one still hears stories of the horrors that went on in such places. This award is like paying a guard to write the history of his own prison – of course he’ll want to cast himself as a hero when in fact he is one of the villains.

On the other hand, I have to ask, who has the authority to write such a history? I daresay there are as many disability histories as there are people with disabilities. We are all unique, we all have different stories to tell; we are not a fixed, easily defined group of people. My fear is, certain ‘activists’ – you know, the pushy types – will endeavour to see to it that this ‘history’ is written how they see it, while other voices get pushed aside. While I hope anyone writing this history will research it thoroughly, there are certain voices within our movement whom I fear won’t be satisfied until it is told their way, reflecting their personal experience of disability. I see our movement already becoming dominated by such people.

Any history of disabled people will always be fraught with such concerns. I don’t know if anyone is in an ideal position to write it. What is certain, though, is that it is not a non user-led charity like Leonard Cheshire.

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