Forging a new identity

Maxine Vernon reports on how the winner of the
Community Care Awards 2001 disability category is
encouraging disabled people to acquire new skills and to develop
their self-respect where needed

There are more than 8.5 million disabled
people in the UK – a significantly larger number than any other
“minority group”. And yet the profile of disabled people on TV and
in advertising continues to be low and their portrayal is often
one-dimensional. But Rainbows in the Ice, the winner of the
disability category at the Community Care Awards, is aiming to
change that.

Rainbows in the Ice is an initiative developed
by the Moor Lane Resource Centre in Preston. Established in June
2001, its aim is to encourage disabled people to develop a positive
self-image in order to contribute and participate fully in

“We found that people were acquiring skills,
for example, improving personal care, developing education and
lifelong learning but staying with us and not moving on. We
realised the missing element was developing their identity,” says
David Halpin, Lancashire Council manager for older people, physical
disability and sensory impairment.

Many of the 70 people who attend the centre
have suffered some kind of medical trauma (for example, multiple
sclerosis or a stroke) or have become disabled through an
industrial injury or leisure accident. For many clients, becoming
disabled will affect the way they see themselves. Halpin describes
the process of “digging people out of a hole”. He says: “Lots of
newly injured people want to go back to what society sees as
acceptable – being upright. It is sad to pick those people up three
or four years later when they have lost their identity, their

Halpin reflects upon society’s often negative
attitudes towards disabled people. He describes a large poster on
the wall at the Moor Lane centre. It shows a young woman in a
wheelchair. She is heavily pregnant. “This caused a lot of
discomfort to many people – they didn’t like it.”

Working with its partners Preston Community
Arts Project, the Disability Information Services Centre and the
Lancashire Information Federation, the centre hopes to use art and
images to change attitudes.

Disabled people are encouraged to set a series
of goals through an individual action plan. As well as acquiring
professional skills clients also spend time exploring issues around
the image of disabled people.

Halpin describes a client who has been through
this process. The project gave her the confidence to go back to
work in a bank after a period of hospitalisation. “Disabled people
are almost always seen as receivers, but it’s a two-way street – we
are able to give something back,” he says.

Halpin feels that winning the award is
acknowledgement that the project is making a difference. “Somebody
nationally has said ‘You’re on the right track. Go for it’. It has
given us a springboard.”

Because of the shortage of positive images of
disabled people, the centre aims to use its prize money to produce
an image bank. This will be made available to disabled people and
resource centre team workers from Lancashire’s seven other
disability day care centres.

Service users will steer the project, but an
expert will be employed to establish a core image bank. Service
users will also work with the county museum service, the county
archive service and library services to create a history zone
charting the history of disabled people and the disabled people’s
movement. Some of the prize money will be used to fund equipment
and transport.

He hopes that this sharing of information will
go some way towards changing attitudes.

On a personal level David Halpin, who is
disabled himself says, “People still ask me in the pub ‘How did you
become disabled?’ This can really hurt, especially if you are newly

He adds: “Disabled people are not always
looking for a cure, we are just seeking our own place in the

– The disability category was sponsored by
Cooper Stanley.

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