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History is the narrative which a society presents itself in order to make sense of its past, its present and where the future might lie. Within that narrative there are many threads, overlapping and interweaving to form the many stories that make up said history. From the pinnacles of human achievement and progress to the depths of tragedy and regression, there are many details that often get lost or simply untold. No more so, I would argue, is this true of disabled history: ambivalent at best and prejudice to the point of systematic persecution at worst, society has never really properly considered or understood the lives and experiences of disabled people, and very rarely are they ever given the chance to make that voice heard as a result.

At least, in the mainstream. Looking at the history of counterculture, disabled people are suddenly more visible, especially when it comes to the world of music. From Jazz to Blues, R&B to Soul, Punk Rock and then Post-Punk: all at one point were considered counterculture, and while that may be less so the case now,

the fact that we find many disabled voices in these places should come as no surprise.

Some popular names include the likes of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder (both Blind), Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols (spinal damage caused by childhood meningitis), Amy Winehouse (Depression) and Kurt Cobain (Chronic Bronchitis and Depression), but there were many more, and some were more overt with their experiences of disability. Johnny Crescendo (born Alan Holdsworth, a Polio survivor) is a celebrated voice in the disabled rights movement, and has written several albums which celebrate disabled identity and critique ableist attitudes. Ian Dury (also a Polio survivor) wrote many songs which explored disability in both a personal and social context, perhaps most famously with “Spasticus Autisticus” (1981), which unapologetically confronts his everyday reality for all to hear, in defiance of peoples sensibility to the topic.

Music has helped define many cultures and subcultures throughout history, often arising during times where that culture had no other form of voice. To quote Stevie Wonder:

“Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand with an equality of opportunity to sing, dance and clap hands”.

– for many disabled artists, it has provided a means to express themselves in ways that the everyday structure of society just hasn’t allowed, and allowed them to be visible where they are otherwise invisible. This is why this year’s theme for Disability History Month is “Disability & Music”, and looks to celebrate that connection and take inspiration from it to inspire the present-day disabled rights movement into action, in the hopes of creating a better tomorrow.

This, to me, could not be more relevant for disabled students at UCL. From the growing crisis of mental health on campus to the stress and challenges of studying challenging degrees in an environment that is both physically and socially restrictive, we often struggle to be present in everyday student life because of how much of a toll everything takes on us, and thus we have become invisible, both in the minds of our peers and those above us. As one of your Disabled Students’ Officers this year, I pledged that I would work towards making disabled students more visible on campus and giving them a space where their voices can be heard and amplified to the rest of the university, and to achieve that we will be hosting a number of events throughout the year, all aimed at increasing the visibility of disability on campus and hopefully creating a sense of community for UCL’s many disabled students.

To start things off, we will be having “A Celebration of Disability & Music” next Tuesday at 7pm in the Print Room Café, where we’ll be listening to a large selection of music by disabled artists and discussing them, while also getting a chance to put faces to names and talk about our plans for the rest of the year.

I hope you will join me in this endeavour to tell our story, and create a legacy that will ensure that disabled students’ voices are heard for years to come here at UCL.

By Kyle Jordan, Disabled Students’ Officer. If you would like to contact the Disabled Students’ Network, please email su-ds.officer@ucl.ac.uk