To: all members of the Disability Research mailing list
From: Tom Gill
I am an old friend of the late Keith Armstrong, a London-based wheelchair-bound polio-sufferer who spent a lifetime campaigning for the rights of people with disabilities. Keith sadly died on May 7, and a few of his old friends have been engaged in clearing out his incredibly cluttered flat in Euston prior to returning it to the council. We have nearly finished this massive job, but there are still mountains of files left with thousands of documents from Keith's campaigning career. The documents cover the period from about 1975 to about the present. He served on various committees, advising London Transport and various boroughs on accessible transport for people with disabilities. He made study trips abroad, including one to America. The files include minutes of committee meetings, correspondence between Keith and various government officials, transports companies, unions, etc, etc.
The NDACA (http://www.ndaca.org.uk/) has already been to the flat and taken away materials relating to Keith's artistic and musical work, but they were not really interested in his career in disability politics. The sad fact of the matter is that Keith's files are going to end up in a Camden Council skip unless somebody rescues them at the very last moment -- which is now.
These papers would be of interest to anyone writing an academic paper about disability politics in London c.1975-2015, especially regarding accessible transport policy. Is there a dynamic researcher out there who wants to take some of these papers?
Time is very, very short. (Sorry, I should have thought of this earlier.) If you think you might be interested in viewing/having the papers, please contact me right away. My e-mail address is tpgill [AT] yahoo.com and my mobile phone number is 0772-101-6225.
Please distribute widely.
PS For those who are interested, I append a short obituary of Keith Armstrong.
Keith Armstrong, an old friend of mine who has died of cancer at the age of 67, was a dynamic activist for the rights of people with disabilities, He contracted polio in South Africa during his infancy, and was wheelchair-bound for most of his life, enduring constant pain and occasional hospitalization throughout his life. After spells of homelessness and squatting in early ‘70s London, he acquired a council flat in Euston that became a powerhouse of radical activism. Hundreds of activists passed through Keith’s smoky, book-crammed flat, many of them working as helpers for Keith, and he left his mark on all of them. He attended countless demonstrations, for CND, housing rights and against the government of the day as well as those demanding disability rights, and was arrested more than once.
Suppressing a strong distrust of government, he became an advisor to several London boroughs, and to London Transport, on issues of access to public transport for people with disabilities. He served on countless committees. Some say Keith coined the phrase “people with disabilities”, replacing “disabled people” or “the disabled”, to stress that people were not defined solely by their disabilities. Keith and his comrades played a large part in making buses, trains, taxis and buildings more accessible to people with every kind of disability.
Keith was also an extremely creative individual. He launched his own international poetry magazine, The Informer, at the age of 16, and worked as an artist, musician, poet and record producer. His works of concrete poetry and typewriter art are in all the best anthologies. He was also an independent scholar who extensively researched the history and linguistics of disability, with a particular interest in the disability-carrying Roman emperor Claudius. His papers, available at academia.edu, are widely read.
Keith did not suffer fools gladly, and would sharply rebuke anyone who lacked understanding of disability politics. But he also enjoyed a laugh, often at his own expense, and was unfailingly kind and generous to anyone who needed help, especially fellow people with disabilities. He saved many people from homelessness by letting them stay at his flat for days, months or even years. His influence extended via a massive personal network through the progressive circles of London and far beyond.
Keith never married or had children. He is survived by his brother Christopher and his sister Angela.
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