In the lead up to the April 2018 launch of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), a project that Shape delivers, we’ve collaborated with UK Disability History Month to explore this year’s theme of “Disability and Art” through the creation of a series of animations.

UK Disability History Month 2017’s focus on “Disability and Art” is one of NDACA’s first opportunities to celebrate the valuable heritage of the Disability Arts Movement, a cultural and political story of disabled people and their allies who broke barriers and helped change the law with the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995.

These four animations shed light on how the arts allowed disabled people to create a new history of disability, celebrating their identity in contrast to the portrayal of “tragically” disabled figures of the past. Each animation sets out a clear theme within the history of the Disability Arts Movement: the Social Model of Disability, Arts and Activism, Portraiture and Representation, and the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive itself.

We’re celebrating the launch of Disability History Month 2017 by releasing the first of these animations on its first day - the 22 November - and will be releasing a new one each week until the end of Disability History Month, featuring the paintings, songs, theatre and comedy that accompanied disabled people’s political desire for change.

The National Disability Arts Collection & Archive

Click here for an easy read version of this animation.

In this first animation we learn about the different ways we can define Disability Art, why the Disability Arts Movement came about, and the importance of NDACA. The history of Disability Arts is often unheard and untold, so NDACA is an important resource for people to be able to learn about the artwork, stories and achievements from the period we coin as the ‘Golden Age of Disability Arts’. We hope that the NDACA can inspire and inform current practice throughout the arts sector and beyond.

Social Model of Disability

The Social Model of Disability can be used to inform Disability Arts practice. In this animation we explore the definition of the Social Model, look at how it is different to the Medical Model of Disability, and explore how it can be used as a tool in various contexts. Many artists featured in the NDACA were inspired by the Social Model in making their work. The cartoonist 'Crippen' portrays all-too-recognisable experiences and attitudes through witty and sharp illustrations, highlighting how most disabling barriers are created by society and not the impairment. Through his song lyrics, Ian Stanton highlighted the prejudice that disabled people face.

The Social Model also helps explain the barriers disabled people can face to arts and culture, by looking at environments under this lens arts organisations and institutions can ensure they remove any barriers that are standing in the way of disabled people being involved and included in the arts. For tips and advice on how to put this into practice, see the Shape Arts resources page:

Arts & Activism

Arts can have a massive impact in invoking social change. The disabled people involved in the Disability Arts Movement used creativity to challenge preconceived ideas of what it means to be disabled. By founding their own disability arts organisations, touring self-made cabaret comedy shows and curating regular exhibitions of disability art, disabled people had the creative control to define their subjective experience of disability.

Tony Heaton’s performance piece ‘Shaken Not Stirred’ featured as part of the 1992 Block Telethon event, where disabled people and their allies gathered to protest against an televised charity campaign. The piece involved a pyramid of more than 1000 charity collecting cans being destroyed by a prosthetic leg, causing all the cans to crash to the floor. Heaton’s decision to incorporate charitable objects into his artwork is just one example of how Disability Arts Movement worked alongside the Disability Rights Movement. Art had the power to energise the wider campaign for political change and equal rights for disabled people.

Portraiture and Representation

Portraiture and representation are key themes within the Disability Arts Movement. Imagery of disabled people by disabled people serves as a fundamental example of the social model in action. The Disability Arts Movement sought to give a presence to disabled individuals previously excluded across the arts, both in front of and behind the scenes. The NDACA features many reports, resources, and training documents produced during the Disability Arts Movement, many of which highlighted the need for media, arts and culture institutions to become more inclusive for disabled people. One example is ‘Strength: Broadsides from Disability on the Arts’ by Paddy Masefield.

For more educational resources about ‘Disability and Art’ from the UK’s Disability History Month 2017, click here:

NDACA’s website goes live in April 2018; until then, sign up to the monthly NDACA e-newsletter at