Remembering Sir Bert Massie – the man and his legacy

 

During the weekend in Paris, the Yellow Vest protestors continue their direct action - the 26th consecutive week of social disorder, violent clashes and bloodshed. But we are here in London in the shadow of Big Ben under blue skies in the warm May sunshine. The scene is somewhat different - one middle-aged man leans against the barrier with a Pro-EU cardboard banner. A few feet to his right (naturally) another middle-aged man stands with his Pro-Brexit banner. The public and the police mingle about, chatting, smiling, enjoying the day. This little, peaceful scene perhaps the perfect encapsulation of why Britain never quite mustered ‘La Revolution’.

We pass the protestors as we are walking towards the House of Lords. We – employees and Trustees of Local Solutions – to attend an event at that place in honour of Sir Bert Massie. His memoirs ‘A Life Without Limits’ are being published and there is a celebratory event in the River Room in the Lords attended by family, colleagues and friends of Bert alongside disability rights campaigners who he worked with over the years.  

Bert was a Trustee of Local Solutions up until his death in 2017. Bert contracted Polio in infancy and subsequently lived with disability for the whole of his life. We are honoured that the proceeds from his autobiography will aid Local Solutions work in supporting people facing disadvantage and exclusion.

Throughout his autobiography, what is clear is that Bert refused to let disability define a life. In his younger days, there were countless medical interventions, unnecessary operations and procedures as part of an attempt to make disabled people ‘better’ rather than – as Bert so rightly saw it – to adapt society to people’s needs. Bert’s is a personal testimony, alongside a societal journey, of overcoming the barriers metaphorical and physical that were placed in his way.

Sir Bert was a major figure in the disability rights movement, dedicating his life to increase awareness and significantly improving access for people with disabilities. A passionate but shrewd negotiator and influencer, he understood that the road to change was long and arduous but his role in that change cannot be underestimated – the list of Bert’s achievements, roles and honours are too long to list here (you’ll have to read the book). It will be time well spent.

As a footnote, our departure from the event was less than straightforward. One of our party uses an electric wheelchair and trying to exit took us round the Houses – literally. First the Lords and then parts of the Commons as we were guided via a long walk to a lift and then to a ground floor exit where the ramp was clearly unsuitable for use due to its steepness. Our guide was apologetic, friendly and helpful as he marched back round the corridors to find an accessible egress. This impediment however, on this special day, perhaps a conspicuous reminder that whatever the strength of Bert’s legacy, there is still a long way to go.

 

If you're interested in reading more about the life of Sir Bert Massie, do pick up his autobiography. The book is available from online bookshops and the audio version is available from the RNIB website. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Bert Massie and his family, proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the work of Local Solutions.

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