Ken Davis, who died on 21 December, will be remembered as one of the most important and influential unsung heroes in the ongoing struggle for equal citizenship and social justice for disabled and non-disabled people the world over. A passionate and committed socialist, he was a true pioneer and key figure in Britain's disabled people's movement. His politics and activism have had an unprecedented impact on disability policy and practice both nationally and internationally.
Kenneth Orville Davis was born on 16 May 1934, and worked as a miner in Morton Pit, Derbyshire. He became quadriplegic after a diving accident on national service with the RAF in Aden in 1961. In 1972, along with other disabled people, he formed the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS). This small group of disability activists rejected the then orthodox "personal tragedy" view of disablement in favour of a more socio/political account, the social model of disability, which is now the driving force behind policy development in Britain and across the world.
Also in 1972, operating from a tiny cloakroom in Cressy Fields Residential Home in Derbyshire, Ken established Britain's first telephone helpline run by and for disabled people, the Disablement Information and Advice Line (DIAL). This triggered the development of a nationwide network of similar local services which together formed DIAL UK. At the same time he and his disabled activist wife, Maggie, were deeply involved in the creation of the UK's first integrated housing complex. The Grove Road housing scheme opened in 1976 comprising six flats, three of which were fully accessible for wheelchair users. This breakthrough project enabled Ken and Maggie to leave the Home and live alongside non-disabled people within the community in a mutually supportive environment. The Grove Road project provided an important example for similar projects throughout Britain and Europe.
In 1981, the International Year of Disabled People, Ken was the principal architect of Britain's first grassroots organisation of disabled people: the Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People (DCODP), and later, the Derbyshire Centre for Integrated Living (DCIL). DCIL is controlled and run by disabled people. Since 1985 it has provided a county-wide range of services clustered around what is generally referred to as 'the seven needs for independent living': information, peer support, housing, technical aids and equipment, personal assistance, transport and access. The first of its kind in the UK, DCIL pioneered the idea of disabled people running their own services – which is now enshrined in government policy statements in Britain, the European Commission and around the world.
A lifelong campaigner against all forms of social injustice, Ken was a long-term supporter of CND and Amnesty International. He was a voracious reader with a love of literature and poetry and his many writings have inspired disability activists and scholars across the UK. He was a proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and his passing will leave a gaping hole in many people's lives. His warm-hearted, quiet dignity and wisdom was and will remain a constant inspiration to all who had the good fortune to know him.
Professor Colin BarnesReuse content