Earlier this month, a noted academic and disability rights activist Mike Oliver passed away. He was key to the promotion and adoption of the Social Model of Disability. Oliver was revolutionary in the UK as a disabled person living independently in society. His academic work contributed to the creation of disability studies as an academic discipline.

The social model of disability is key to ENIL’s understanding on Independent Living, as in the social model people are not disabled by their impairments, but by how society fails to adjust to our needs. Personal assistance is a key adjustment for disabled people being able to access society. Under the social model of disability, disabled people are equal to non-disabled people and have rights. It is the social model that underpins the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by bringing the world’s attention to the social model. Oliver’s work has irreversibly shaped the disability and independent living movements.

For me, a man I never met revolutionised my life and identity and that of many of other disabled people globally, by giving us a way of understanding our experience, which empowers us to demand change. By framing disability as a societal issue, rather than an individual issue, the social model enables disabled people to work  together to challenge discrimination. What Oliver has given me and every other disabled person is a way of taking control of our lives and a means of acknowledging our oppression, which continues to be revolutionary.

Contributed by Zara Todd, Senior Advisor at ENIL