The European ‘Disability Revolts’ of 1981: How Were They Related to the Youth Movement?

  • Monika Baár
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


Simultaneous with the European ‘youth revolts’, the years 1980–81 saw an upsurge in the protest activities of disabled citizens throughout Europe. Although these protests remained low-scale and unsystematic in the majority of cases, they did represent novel developments in the history of social movements in several ways. Protests by disabled citizens were not entirely unheard of in earlier decades, yet they were almost exclusively initiated by war veterans or victims of industrial accidents — individuals who believed that they possessed a certain moral currency to raise their voices because they had sacrificed their health, either in the service of the fatherland or in that of their employers. The majority of the protests in the explosive years of 1980–81, on the other hand, were organized by civilians, and this marked a new paradigm in the understanding of disability. Up until the early 1980s, being disabled was perceived primarily as a medical issue focusing on the deficient body. Consequently, in this model, the ‘problem’ lay with the individual, who was expected to give an extra effort to make sure that they did not ‘inconvenience’ anyone else. According to the new, alternative model, disability came to be interpreted as a social construct, and the causes of disablement were detected in the social environment. It was therefore primarily the responsibility of society to remove the barriers that restricted the lives of disabled citizens.1


Disable People Disable Woman Disable Activist Youth Movement Disability Movement 
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© Monika Baár 2016

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  • Monika Baár

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