Vic Finkelstein: Academic anddisability activist

 

Vic Finkelstein, who has died aged 73, was an activist and academic whose writings gave intellectual shape to the disabled people's movement. Finkelstein was born in Johannesburg in 1938, and grew up in Durban. He claimed later that his "lifelong resistance against regimentation" started in nursery school, while his Jewish background gave him an abhorrence of human oppression.

He was the youngest of three brothers, the first of whom had died in a childhood accident before Finkelstein was born. His childhood was without major incident, until at the age of 16 he broke his neck in an unsupervised experiment with pole vaulting.

Sent abroad for rehabilitation, he spent a year at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. During this time he competed as a swimmer in the Stoke Mandeville Games, winning a medal for South Africa. Twenty years later, he was to organise demonstrations against the presence of a white South African team in those games at a time when mainstream sports were boycotting the country.

He studied at The University of Natal, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, before taking a Masters in psychology at Witwaterstrand University in Johannesburg. During this time he became involved with anti-apartheid activism. When, in 1964, Bram Fischer, the Secretary General of the South African Communist Party, Nelson Mandela's trial lawyer, went underground to support the liberation struggle, Finkelstein was one of the group who supported him. In April 1966 he was detained under the 180-day laws and sentenced to 18 months' hard labour, with 15 months waived because he was "a cripple".

On his release he was issued with a five-year banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act. He would later claim that this limited his activities little more than the restrictions already placed on him as a disabled person. Nevertheless, he fled to the UK, where, through the Anti-Apartheid Movement, he met Elizabeth Lewin, whom he married in 1968.

When, in 1972, Paul Hunt wrote to the Guardian to propose the creation of a new consumer organisation to represent residents of disability institutions, Finkelstein responded, and the two founded the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. He drafted Fundamental Principles of Disability, UPIAS's public commentary on some fairly chilly debates with the Disability Alliance. At an early stage, the document contains the statement, "In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments, by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. Disabled people are therefore an oppressed group in society."

This was one of the earliest formulations of what would come to be known as the "social model" of disability, the big idea on which the modern disability movement has been founded. Finkelstein was to continue to develop this case for the next 30 years. Drawing upon his experience of the liberation struggle in South Africa, he would maintain that the oppression of disabled people must be fought by the building of a grassroots movement. I cannot overestimate how valuable it was to us as a nascent movement to have someone delivering position papers of such clarity and rigour.

Such democratic thinking led to the establishment of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People in 1980. Finkelstein was closely involved and was elected the organisation's first chair; he was also elected to the World Congress of Disabled People's International.

Presciently, he also saw a need for disabled people to have their own arts and cultural organisations. In 1987 he formed part of the steering group that established the London Disability Arts Forum and at the launch of that organisation delivered a paper, "Disabled People and Our Cultural Development", that was to define the movement whose accomplishments have been recognised with the establishment of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA). It is a testament to Finkelstein's lasting influence that NDACA is entirely controlled by disabled people.

Finkelstein also made his mark in academia, when he gave up work as a NHS psychologist to join the Open University, where he was to become course chair of The Handicapped Person in the Community, the world's first course in disability studies. On retirement from the OU, he became a Visiting Senior Research Fellow to the Disability Research Unit at Leeds University.

Allan Sutherland

Victor Berel Finkelstein, disability activist and academic: born Johannesburg 25 January 1938; married1968 Elizabeth Lewin (died 1993; two daughters); died Stoke Mandeville 30 November 2011.

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines