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Barbara, Alan...and Ruth. Must see new BBC Drama.

24th March 2022


Most of you know about The Disability Discrimination Act passed by Parliament in 1995, but you might not know the tough and also fascinating history of the protests and campaigns that led to this bill being signed. Whether it’s new to you, something you read about or you witnessed it in the 1990s, from the 21st March you can travel back in time with ‘Then Barbara met Alan’, a BBC drama that follows the relationship of two key disabled activists, Barbara Lisicki (Ruth Madeley) and Alan Holdsworth (Arthur Hughes), and the protests that stopped London and caught the governments’ attention to the disability discrimination cause. Both Barbara and Alan were part of the Direct Action Network (DAN) and supported the British disability movement, which campaigned for many years against the discrimination faced by disabled people in many aspects of life.

At the time, race and gender had legal protection under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, but there was no piece of legislation protecting disabled individuals and their rights until the early 1990s, when thousands of people, including many disabled people, were involved in street-level protests to raise awareness of their cause. In some cases, wheelchair users chained themselves to buses to demand more-accessible transport, people would block the busy traffic in London and the British disability movement gathered documentation of the extent of discrimination faced by disabled people. They made clear that they didn’t want pity, they wanted equality and accessibility.

“Then Barbara met Alan” will be a great way to remind our society that disabled people were not given the rights they deserve simply by understanding and generosity. Recognition only came after years of protests, facing the discrimination of those who thought that obligating businesses to adapt to disables was “too much of a burden”. You might see some real protest footage in the drama, which makes it even more historical and interesting.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is important to protect the employment rights of people with disabilities, whether they have physical or mental impairment. It also provides protection against discrimination in other areas such as education and transport.

Today, these rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland.

‘Then Barbara Met Alan’ will star our beloved Ruth Madeley, the incredible British actress well known for her role in Years and Years and who was born with spina bifida. Ruth supports the same cause as us at Shine. She has been always so friendly to us and we admire her work and how much she inspires others with the same condition.

This week, Ruth was celebrated by the Remarkable Woman Awards 2022, taking home the Change Maker of the Year Award for her efforts to increase the representation of characters with disabilities. The award was presented to Ruth by the writer, activist and academic Sinéad Burke, who shared a powerful and stunning speech, sharing her thoughts about disability and the impact Ruth Madeley has had throughout her acting career.

“Last year, a report by Respectability and Nielsen found that from 2000 to 2020, on-screen content about disability increased by over 200%,” said Sinéad. “This is worth celebrating, but it’s important to recognise that of the total film and television content that exists, themes about disability still only equate to 3%.” Sinéad added that “Merging her off-screen and on-screen personas, tonight’s winner is campaigning to end ableism and getting support from production companies, producers, and directors to increase opportunities in the creative industries for disabled people – who make up 20% of the population. I’m honoured to announce that the winner of the Change Maker of the Year Award is Ruth Madeley.” Congratulations!

The work of Sinéad, Ruth and others is hugely inspiring and shows that we can all be heroes and archive anything through kindness, determination and hard work. 

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