Landmark exhibition launches in Manchester exploring the fight for disabled people's rights

Video report by Mel Barham

It has been described as a 'landmark' exhibition - Nothing About Us Without Us which has just opened at the People's History Museum in Manchester, explores how disabled people's rights have been fought for over centuries and the activism that has led this march forward.

Not only does the exhibition look at the past and the barriers that have faced disabled people and their campaigns to overcome them, but also looks to the present and the future in which the fight is ongoing.

The exhibition includes numerous t-shirts, photographs and banners from past protests and campaigns Credit: People's History Museum

There are more than three hundred exhibits including protest material, artwork and objects, such as banners and t-shirts; many of which have never been shown before.

It is the first time the story has been told this way and its telling has been led by four community curators who all identify as disabled people.

Ruth Malkin, is one of the community curators for the exhibition. Born deaf, and a life-long activist for disabled people's rights, she says working on this has been "one of the most life affirming, positive work experiences of my life."

"It has been truly empowering to work with a group of incredible disabled people to tell the story of our community's history.

One of the community curators Ruth Malkin shows correspondent Mel Barham around the exhibition Credit: ITV News

"People coming to the exhibition will get a sense of the incredible disabled people past and present who have tirelessly campaigned and raised awareness to make life better for all disabled people both now and for the future.

"They will get a sense of just how far we have come as a society from the days when disabled people had no choice but to enter a workhouse and beg to stay alive.

"They will laugh at the satirical cartoons, cry at the appalling stories of disablist discrimination and share the triumph at the battles fought and won by disability rights campaigners dating back to the 19th century.

"I'm hoping that they will leave informed about disabled and D/deaf people's historical struggles, and empowered to join a cause that is continuing today - to remove the disabling barriers for everyone in the UK and beyond.”

Ruth drew on her own experiences growing up to help shape the project.

"I'm a deaf person and I was educated in mainstream school and I got no support in education at all and that's because of what happened in the deaf community going back to the 1880s when sign language was banned across the world in education and deaf people immediately began to fight back."

And it is stories like these - many of which are not commonly known -that the exhibition is hoping to highlight.

Ruth told us "I don't think people know these stories, they don't understand how hard it has been for disabled people to get to the position we're in, and the sheer effort disabled people have taken. We have fought for access to our society and that battle hasn't stopped either."

The exhibition includes the sculpture 'Great Britain from a wheelchair' by artist Tony Heaton Credit: People's History Museum

Anis Akhtar is another of the community curators. As a blind and intersex person, they told ITV News that they believe this is a really important exhibition.

"For a lot of disabled people we've had people speak for us on our behalf in the past but this is our story from our perspective.

"This is about our history and one that hasn’t been told in this focused way before; manyyounger people won’t be aware of some of the marches and campaigns that havetaken place.

Anis Akhtar designed this disabled and intersex flag to celebrate being both disabled and intersex Credit: People's History Museum

"I want people to come and celebrate, to build a picture of the history ofDisabled People’s Movement and to go away with an understanding of disabilityactivism past, present and future.

"Some of the past issues are still happening today, but unless you understand the history progress will never be achieved.”

Protest is a reoccurring theme throughout the decades; represented in the exhibitionthrough banners, photographs and posters, with lots of objects from the collection atGreater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

But there are also many very personal items, such as a mug on loan from Sue Elsegood which she bought at a Rights Now! Protest in Trafalgar Square in 1994, which called for achange in law to prevent discrimination against disabled people and for a full civilrights law.

This also reflects the ongoing campaigns of many disabled people’s groups to put anti-discrimination laws into place.

This exhibition has been four years in the making and will run for a year.

It aims not only to leave people more informed, but also empowered to help remove those barriers still faced by so many.