Socialist Worker

Vic Finkelstein 1938-2011

by Roddy Slorach
Issue No. 2285

Vic Finkelstein was a pioneering activist and academic whose work profoundly shaped and influenced the disability movement.

Born in Johannesburg in 1938, and paralysed by a pole vaulting accident at the age of 16, he was imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activities in the 1960s.

A few years after arriving in Britain, he met Paul Hunt, with whom he founded the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation.

Finkelstein's Fundamental Principles of Disability, drafted in 1975, opposed the idea of disability as being about charity or personal tragedy.

It includes the famous statement, '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.'

These principles formed the basis of what became the 'social model' of disability—the idea around which the early disability movement was founded.

In one key article, he argued that disability was rooted in the rise of industrial capitalism.

Finkelstein helped set up the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People in 1980, and was elected as its first chair.

On leaving his job as an NHS psychologist to join the Open University, he helped establish one of the first courses in what is now disability studies.

He argued that disability discrimination must be fought by building links with other oppressed groups.

And he defended the social model's central message for the rest of his life—that fundamental social change is necessary to end discrimination against disabled people.

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Tue 10 Jan 2012, 19:50 GMT
Issue No. 2285
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