Learn about nearly fifty years of disability arts history in our timeline. This is a condensed version of Allan Sutherland's 'Chronology of Disability Arts: 1997 - April 2017', which has been updated for the launch of NDACA.


1970s

1972 – Paul Hunt, a disabled resident at Cheshire Homes, writes a letter calling for a united struggle by disabled people against all the barriers they faced. The letter was published in The Guardian and had a wide-reaching impact on disabled people in the UK.

1974 – The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) is founded by Vic Finkelstein, Paul Hunt and other disabled people and their allies. The UPIAS went on to formulate the basic principles of the Social Model of Disability, which describes disability as a form of social oppression about barriers.

1976 – Shape Arts is founded by the dancer Gina Levete. By the end of the decade, Shape had launched projects in schools, prisons, colleges, and art centres across London and the rest of the UK, forming direct links between artists and isolated groups of people.

1977 – Basic Theatre Company is founded by Ray Harrison Graham.


1980s

1980 – Graeae Theatre Company is founded by Nabil Shaban and Richard Tomlinson. Graeae’s key philosophy was to create a theatre company would be controlled and managed by disabled people. This was a direct response to the lack of opportunities for disabled people to receive training as actors or obtain professional work.

1981 – The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) is founded, the first time national organisations of disabled people came together to form a co-ordinating body.

1981 – The United Nation’s First International Year of Disabled People, which called for a plan of action on how to achieve equality for disabled people. That same year, the singer and activist Ian Drury released his song ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, which criticised the UN for patronising disabled people.

1981 – Artsline is founded, a disability-led organisation that aimed to promote access for disabled people to arts and entertainment venues.

1982 – Strathcona Theatre Company is established, working to create physical-theatre pieces with disabled actors.

1983 – The first Covent Garden Day of Disabled Artists is held, organised by Geof Armstrong, who was then working at Shape Arts. There are subsequent Covent Garden festivals in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990.

1984 – Arts Integrated Merseyside is founded as part of the Shape network. It established one of the first disability-led Arts Forums, and in 1986 broke away from Shape as the North West Disability Arts Forum.

1986 – In September, London Disability Arts Forum (LDAF) is founded, following the ‘Disability – Our Arts, Our Culture’ conference which was planned and executed by disabled people. The principles formulated by Vic Finkelstein and others were that disability rights should have a cultural ‘wing’ and that art should join the struggle for rights.

1986 – In November, the first issue of Disability Arts in London (DAIL) Magazine is published, first written by Sian Vasey, Michael Hempstead, Pat Place, Claire Wheeler, and Rudi Breakwell-Bos.

1987 – Stemming from 1986 workshops at the Mulberry Day Centre, Heart ‘N’ Soul is founded.

1989 – In July, New Breed Theatre Company is founded in Manchester. They go on to tour nationally between 1990 and 1996, developing a reputation for experimental theatre informed by the lives of disabled people.


1990s

1990 – February holds the first session of The Workhouse Cabaret, a Graeae Writer’s project. The desire is to create accessible provision for disabled people to learn to write drama.

1990 – In May, the Tragic But Brave Roadshow is set up, a travelling disability arts cabaret show. Regular performers include Johnny Crescendo, Wanda Barbara, Ian Stanton and Allan Sutherland.

1990 – In July, the first Block Telethon protest demonstrates against the ITV Charity Telethon broadcast which positioned disabled people as pitiful receivers of charity.

1991 – In March, Mike Oliver publishes The Politics of Disablement.

1991 – In April, the first edition of the Disability Arts Magazine is published.

1991 – In November, Survivor’s Poetry is founded, a poetry workshop for survivors of the mental health system.

1992 – The second Block Telethon protest is organised by the Direct Action Network, with some 2,000 protesters on London’s South Bank wearing t-shrits with the slogan ‘Piss on Pity’.

1992 – The Liberty, Equality, Disability – Images of a Movement poster series is launched – which is widely credited with changing negative charity advertising around disabled people.

1993 – Between November and December, LDAF releases its first exhibition, How We Like It.

1994 – Ian Macrae becomes the BBC Editor for the Community & Disability Programmes Unit, and oversees a number of radical films and television series including From The Edge, Over The Edge and The Disabled Century (produced and directed by David Hevey).

1997 – In September, the first Independence Festival is held in Manchester, featuring performances by disabled artists including Julie McNamara, Mat Fraser and Johnny Crescendo.

1998 – In March, LDAF launched Postal Strike!, a set of postcards produced by many disabled artists.

1998 – In December, the disabled singer and activist Ian Stanton dies.


2000s

2001 – The first DaDaFest is held by the North West Disability Arts Forum.

2002 – In February, Holton Lee holds the DA21 Disability Arts Conference, with many speakers, artists, and workshops.

2002 – In August, Degenerate, a festival within the Edinburgh festival, showcases the best of disability arts.

2003 – Dada-South is set up to develop the careers of disabled artists across the South East and West of England.

2003 – In March, the National Disability Arts Forum publishes Shelf Life, a book of writings from people with conditions that shorten their lives.

2004 – In October, Mat Fraser performs in Thalidomide! A Musical, which he co-wrote, and tours the musical in 2005 and 2006.

2005 – On the 11th of August, Adam Reynolds dies days before his art installation at the Tate Modern. In 2007, Shape will launch the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary.

2006 – The Liberty Festival, London’s disability rights festival, celebrates 20 years of LDAF with performances from many disabled artists.

2007 – ‘Here and Now’ is launched in the South East in 2007. This was the largest Disability Art public art installation delivered with the University of Portsmouth.

2008 – Arts Council announce funding cuts to 194 arts organisations, including complete withdrawal of funding to the National Disability Arts Forum (NDAF) and the London Disability Arts Forum (LDAF).

2009 – Mar 8 Holton Lee 3rd Disability Arts Open Exhibition.

2009 – Tanya Raabe, ‘Who’S WhO’ on tour at the Solihull Arts Complex, then 27a Access Artspace, Leicester.

2009 – November ‘Cast Offs’, Channel Four comedy-drama mockumentary follows a group of six disabled people sent to a remote British island for a fictional reality show.


2010s

2010 – DaDaFest 2010. DaDaFest celebrate their tenth year with the theme ‘Objects of Curiosity and Desire’, investigating identity and our place in an ever changing world.

2011 – Shape Arts announces 29 Unlimited commissions in preparation for London 2012.

2011 – ‘Re-framing disability: portraits from the Royal College of Physicians’.

2012 – The Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony Is watched by an average of  7.7 million people on Channel 4, making it one of the biggest TV audiences in Channel 4’s history.

2012 – The first Unlimited Festival at the SouthBank Centre is launched, delivered by Shape Arts and Arts Admin.

2015 – The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive is awarded £1-million funding by Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Joseph Rowntree Foundation to preserve the heritage of the Disability Arts Movement.

2016 – Shape Arts and Artsadmin receive funding to produce Unlimited International, a programme that will tour the works of disabled artists around Japan, Australia and Brazil.

2016 –  The Bush Theatre announces that Deafinitely Theatre will become one of their new Associate Artists. This is part of the launch of a new talent development strategy designed to revolutionise the diversity and quality of artists and artistic leadership in the UK.

2017 – Following sell-out shows in the UK, Liz Carr’s Assisted Suicide: The Musical tours to Australia. The show was first produced by Unlimited and is based on Liz Carr’s opposition to assisted suicide.

2018 – The National Disability Arts Collection hosts its first exhibition at City Hall, London, as well as launching its website, oral histories, educational resources and catalogue of 3,000 deposits.