The father of the social model of disability, Professor Mike Oliver, died on Saturday after battling a short illness, Disability and Society announced yesterday.
Oliver, who was the UK’s first professor of disability studies, promoted the concept of “the social model of disability,” which said that the need to remove barriers for disabled people to engage with society is not an individual responsibility, but a societal one.
With immense sadness I must share the news that our beloved Professor Michael Oliver, Founder of Disability & Society, died yesterday after a short illness. On behalf of Executive Editors I offer condolences to Mike’s family and to disabled people everywhere.
Michele Moore, Ed pic.twitter.com/idf2yAucAH
— Disability&Society (@JDisSoc) March 3, 2019
While Oliver did not invent the underlying concepts which comprised the social model, he refined ideas which first appeared in the pamphlet Fundamental Principles of Disability, published in 1976 by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. Oliver would use these ideas as the basis for the social model, which he created in an academic setting to assist his students.
In a Scope blog, the professor explained the effect the pamphlet had on him: “Once the Fundamental Principles document came out, I realised that I didn’t have to take responsibility because it wasn’t my problem. Society installed steps in the first place and I wasn’t the one who created barriers preventing me from participating in the same things as my non-disabled friends.”
The news of Oliver’s death prompted an outpouring of love for the pioneer of disability studies on social media. UNITE columnist Mik Scarlet tweeted: “Just heard the father of the social model of disability, Mike Oliver, has died. Disabled people all over the world owe him a huge debt and all of us who come after him must continue his work. RIP Mike. Thanks for showing the way!”
Professor of disability research at the University of Glasgow Nick Watson echoed Mik’s sentiments, saying: “Saddened to hear of the death of Mike Oliver. Not only did he help to change the way we think about disability, but he also helped establish disability studies as an academic discipline. We all owe him a huge debt.”Get your copy of UNITE Magazine