Out of Sight

In this compelling book, extensively illustrated with rare photographs, the authors tell the moving story of disabled people in Britain in the days before the Welfare State. Based on many interviews with older blind, deaf and physically disabled people it provides the first ever account of their lives at this time.

The authors reveal the violence and cruelty of many institutions for disabled children and how the punishment they inflicted often exploited the children’s disabilities. Many of the thousand of the children who had less visible impairments at this time desperately tried to keep their disability a secret to avoid being sent away.

The world of work is shown through the eyes of disabled people themselves to have been one of immense prejudice, discrimination and hostility. In spite of this, during the Second World War when there was a severe labour shortage, half a million disabled (people) played an important – and hitherto role forgotten – role working on the Home Front in factories, hospitals and offices.

There used to be an obsession with keeping disabled boys and girls apart and preventing them from reproducing. Many resisted such hostile attitude and went on to marry and have children. Sadly, others were to remain in institution all their lives, deprived of the opportunities to form loving relationships.

Out of Sight brings to light an important and controversial chapter in British social history.

The book is full of firsthand account of the disabled people and extensive rare photographs of that era.

Ted Williams, a single parent when his wife left him, had a young son. He shares his beautiful experience with his son who became his very important asset in his struggle for survival:

            “The child’s eyesight was a terrific help. For instance, if I wanted to go anywhere too difficult for the blind, well I’d know the way, the inns and outs but I wouldn’t know how to negotiate them, but his eyesight, even at the age of four, younger as he was, with the combination of the two of us we’d get to places where I couldn’t get to otherwise. And as a result of this we drew closer together. I mean, whether the child knew I was dependent on him to the extent, I couldn’t tell you, but I knew that I was. I always remember our favorite place. There’s a woodyard in Sheffield and I was always one for messing around with woods. And so one of the favorites was to go this yard with my son and because we couldn’t afford to    transport the wood back we used to carry it  back with him hanging onto one end and me on the other. And he’d be shouting, which way we were to go. And that was for the best part of two miles. And in the home   there were such things as peeling potatoes. I might not be sure that I’d got all peel off them and so I’d show him and ask him if all skin were off. He’d say, ‘No there’s some there dad.’ And so on. He helped me in so many little ways. For instance one of my difficulties was cutting bread straight. I’d get the edge of a slice perhaps two inches thick and t’other half an inch and used to help me and tell me to push the knife down a bit further and which way it should go”.

Through the moving personal accounts and photographs with which the book is illustrated, the courage and spirit of the disabled shine through as they struggled to overcome prejudice and discrimination as well as physical disability to secure a rightful and valued place in a society sometimes too willing to reject them.

Note: More firsthand accounts of the disabled people from the book are reproduced for the benefit of our readers in Handibrowsing.

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