Draft (2 Dec 2016)
UPIAS was a private and radical group of British disabled people for eighteen years from 1972 to 1990, active mainly in London and Manchester. The Manchester group left a strong legacy in other, more public organisations, including the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.
The full name of UPIAS was the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. It was created following a letter by Paul Hunt (1937-1979) printed in The Guardian newspaper on 20 September 1972, and in the Magic Carpet newsletter of the Disabled Drivers Association, calling for a radical union of disabled people to fight for mainstream rights and to fight against segregation.
Many members of UPIAS lived in residential institutions run by big charities and they feared for reprisals or discrimination if their membership and views became known to the organisations that controlled their lives, hence the private and confidential nature of the organisation. Membership of UPIAS was by invitation only and would now be comparable to a private group on Facebook.
Over time it developed a working routine of local meetings (private), and two newsletters: the Confidential Circular (private) and Disability Challenge (public). In 1976 UPIAS published its Fundamental Principles of Disability which became its manifesto and a seminal document for the British disabled people’s movement. It took as it basis the social model of disability.
Nationally, UPIAS members invested a lot of energy in the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) and the Disabled People’s International (DPI). However, although both organisations adopted the social model of disability and the importance of being controlled by disabled people, they did not manage to thrive as had been hoped for.
Some of the key national UPIAS members identified in the public domain were:
Maggie Davis (nee Hines)
Some of the key members of Manchester UPIAS were:
Cathy Avison (1963-1992)
Ken Lumb (1941-2009)
Kevin Hyett (1958-2004)
Neville Strowger (1939-2015)
and key allies and facilitators included:
Chris Drinkwater (1951-2015).
A few UPIAS meetings took place at the offices of Rochdale Voluntary Action, especially as Chris Drinkwater was working there at the time and he was a close friend of Ken Lumb. When members started to achieve their independence the Manchester UPIAS group meetings started to be held in people’s flats and houses.
Potential new members were given an introductory pack to read first. There was a discussion about adding associate membership on 3 September 1985, but there was no resolution and a decision was deferred.
Manchester UPIAS was also central to determining disabled people’s strategies for engaging politically with Manchester City Council and determining the key campaigning priorities such as access and employment.
The collection of the UPIAS Confidential Circular documents remains restricted for reasons of ethics and data protection, not least to avoid any future discrimination against living individuals who had an expectation of privacy when writing in the journal.
About eleven years after UPIAS closed, Judy Hunt, wife of Paul Hunt, gave a talk called – A revolutionary group with a revolutionary message. A copy of this talk appeared as an article in Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s magazine Coalition in 2001.
The Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds holds a full set of UPIAS Confidential Circulars in a restricted access archive, as well as making available a range of public domain articles online.