Story 97

A society that is fair and just for all

Back when I was an anthropology graduate student, I came across a community — the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts in the USA — with a very high rate of hereditary deafness.

The response was that for 300 years, almost all the hearing people in the community learned and used sign language. No one considered the deafness as a disability. I studied the community and soon found myself in the middle of the US Disability Rights Movement in the early 1980s, working on disability advocacy issues. From there I went on to work in international disability research and advocacy.

This led me to Leonard Cheshire Disability. I have always done applied research — research that hopefully makes a difference in people’s lives. I’d long admired the work of Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at UCL. It is one of the few research centres anywhere in the world that concentrates on applied research about people with disabilities in low and middle-income countries. The fact that the centre’s work is linked so closely to the work Leonard Cheshire Disability does in the field to support children into education and adults into employment makes it a very special and unique place. When the job of director of the centre opened up, I applied and was fortunate enough to get the position.

Working with a team of like-minded people at Leonard Cheshire is a highlight of my job. I’m talking about fellow researchers at the Centre, Leonard Cheshire staff at headquarters and in the field, as well as our international partners who are part of the Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance. All of them are so dedicated to making a positive impact for disabled people.

Leonard Cheshire Disability is unique due to a strong combination: a human rights approach to disability and a pragmatic, down-to-earth commitment to making a difference — to individuals, to communities and at the global level.

For me, Leonard Cheshire’s legacy is an ongoing commitment to strive for a society that is fair and just for all. If I met Leonard Cheshire today, I think I would say how much I admire the fact that his work has affected the lives of so many children and adults both here in the UK and around the globe — and say that there’s still much left to do.

Leonard Cheshire’s legacy is an ongoing commitment to strive for a society that is fair and just for all.