Book review: Defying Disability: The Lives and Legacies of Nine Disabled Leaders

Defying Disability: The lives and legacies of nine disabled leaders


Review by Mark Drinkwater

Book by Mary Wilkinson

Jessica Kingsley Publishers

ISBN 9781843104155

Mary Wilkinson’s book about the lives of nine disabled people outlines the significant contributions each have made to society.

Her choices include tireless national campaigners who developed disabilities, such as the MP Jack Ashley who became deaf in his forties, and Bert Massie, the former head of the Disability Rights Commission, who became disabled after contracting polio as a child.

Less well-known figures are also featured, including Andrew Lee, director of learning disability charity People First, though these accounts are no less fascinating.

But there are some notable oversights in Wilkinson’s choices. Of the nine people profiled, only two are women: Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey Thompson and campaigner Rachel Hurst. Why stop at two? I’d like to have read about other distinguished disabled women, such as comedian Liz Carr or social care adviser Dame Jane Campbell.

In spite of the omissions, I greatly enjoyed much of the book, particularly the accounts of personal transformations. Ideally, I would like to read a series of full length biographies on these, and other, disabled achievers. But these short accounts are an engaging read that give great insight into the lives of people who have had to overcome physical adversity as well as societal prejudice.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London and Community Care’s practice adviser

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