Can the first Disability History Month match the impact that Black History teaching has made?

You do not have to look too hard to find negative images of how disabled people have been portrayed throughout history. Take Richard III, for instance. Much is made in Shakespeare's play of his deformed figure. Remember, too, that Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and there is a school of thought that the Tudor dynasty had the most ruthless spin doctors in history – centuries before Alastair Campbell was born. It is said that they touched up his hunchback in portraits to make him look more disfigured, so that to their eyes and (they hoped) to the portrait's viewers he would look more evil.

Go, too, to some of our great works of literature, and you stumble on Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop. Its villain, Quilp, is manifestly disabled, as is Smallwood, the villainous landlord in Our Mutual Friend. Small wonder that there is a need to counteract negative stereotyping by giving Britain's school-children a more positive image of disabled people and their achievements.

Again, the role models are easy to find. From today's world, Professor Stephen Hawking, the physicist who suffers from a form of neuro-muscular dystrophy which has left him almost completely paralysed, is an obvious one. And then there is Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson, who is dyslexic. Or the Irish author, Christy Brown, author of My Left Foot, who – as the name of his book implies – could only commit his words to paper by using his left foot.

These and other positive role models will feature in the first ever Disability History Month, which will be launched next Monday, 22 November, and run until 22 December.

One of the key figures behind the scheme is Richard Rieser, a former National Union of Teachers activist who is now managing director of a consultancy that focuses on international disability awareness, World of Inclusion Ltd.

It was not easy to get the idea off the ground. Rieser first put some ideas forward to the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency for curriculum content that could be used to promote disability awareness, for promotion on its website. That agency, however, became one of the first quangos to be earmarked for extinction under the cuts proposed by the Coalition Government. He asked the Department for Education if it would take the project on, but says he was told that it would only add to teachers' "burden". Undeterred, he launched it on his own website (www.worldofin, where it offers teachers ideas for themes they could pursue in the classroom during the month.

Rieser, who recalls having an argument with actor Sir Ian McKellen over his portrayal of Richard III (he felt the actor had played up the image of the hunchback, whereas in his view the murders of the Princes in the Tower was an evil enough image in itself), has included several poems – mostly written by people with a disability – to focus on. One, by Sue Napolitano, talks of "disabled apartheid" and includes the lines:

"The municipal might of Victorian Architecture
No need for a sign saying
When triumphal stone flights
Of stairs
Smugly bar the way to
The art gallery
The library
The committee meeting."

The suggested poems also include one by Adrian Mitchell (not himself disabled) called "Back In the Playground Blues", focusing on bullying.

"Got a mother and a father, they're one thousand years away
The rulers of the Killing Ground are coming out to play.
Everybody thinking: 'Who they going to play with today?
Well, you get it for being Jewish
And you get it for being black
Get it for being chicken
And you get it for fighting back
You get it for being big and fat
Get it for being small
Oh those who get it get it and get it
For any damn thing at all."

The launch of the month's events will be held at London University's Institute of Education next Wednesday, with a series of speakers concentrating on the theme "The Struggle for Inclusive Education".

In the early years of the Labour government, when David Blunkett was Education Secretary, legislation was introduced insisting that mainstream schools should have access for disabled people, as part of an effort to promote more inclusion.

But the debate appears to have changed focus, with Conservatives concentrating in the run-up to the election on the number of special schools being closed, arguing that many pupils with special needs were struggling in mainstream schools and would be better off in special schools.

The emphasis during Disability History month will be on inclusion, though. "It is the barriers of the environment, organisation and attitude that disadvantage disabled people," argues Rieser. Not their disabilities.

Other events taking place during the month include a screening of a documentary about a band of disabled Congolese, Benda Bilili, at Kilburn's Tricycle Cinema on Sunday 5 December. The core of the group is three middle-aged, polio-surviving street dwellers, who slept on cardboard boxes in the slums of Kinshasa, where they preserved some dignity by making music. The group's frontman is Roger Landu, himself plucked off the streets when he was just 12. Roger, who is non-disabled, plays a curious self-invented instrument made from an empty tin, a curved piece of wood and a tightly stretched string, from which he extracts tuneful solos. Their music is rooted in the rumba, with elements of rhythm and blues, and won acclaim in a recent tour of Europe.

The month's events will go beyond schools, with a conference at the TUC on 25 November focusing on the rights of those with disabilities at work. Rieser believes it is essential to widen the focus of the month's campaign, in the wake of the public service cuts which could well see jobs threatened and services and benefits withdrawn. "Employers should take a more enlightened attitude" towards people with disabilities, he says.

Disability History Month follows the precedent created by other months set aside to focus on the history of black people in the UK, and gays and lesbians. It may, if this one is successful, become an annual event.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Supply Teachers Needed in Bungay

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Year 6 Teacher

£111 - £163 per day + £111 - £163 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The posi...

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine