AOUG Vic Finkelstein Award for Health and Social Care

Vic Finkelstein, (now deceased) was a ‘giant’ of the disability movement and credited with putting The Open University at the forefront of teaching and thinking about disability. He was born in South Africa and his experience of apartheid, including being jailed as a political prisoner, influenced his thinking about how society treated disabled people. Vic was disabled after a pole-vaulting accident as a teenager, later travelling to Britain for treatment and winning a swimming medal for South Africa at the Stoke Mandeville Games. Back in South Africa, while at university, he became involved with the anti-apartheid movement in 1964 supporting Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela’s trial lawyer who had gone underground. In 1966 Finkelstein was sentenced to eighteen months hard labour, reduced to three months being ‘a cripple’.

In 1968 he fled to Britain and helped found, with Paul Hunt, the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) which argued that oppression by society was the biggest issue for disabled people. UPIAS focussed on changing what it called ‘the disabling society’. Through UPIAS and in the 1970s the television programme Link, Finkelstein helped change the way society thought about disability. In 1981 he campaigned for the exclusion of the South African team taking part in the Stoke Mandeville games for disabled people.

He also helped set up the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People and the London Disability Arts Forum leading to the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive. He was an NHS psychologist before joining The Open University in the 1980s as course chair of ‘The Handicapped Person in the Community’ the world’s first course in disability studies. He retired from the OU in 1996 becoming a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Leeds University. Joanna Bornat, Emeritus Professor of Oral History OU Faculty of Health and Social Care said, “I don’t think many people at the OU now will know that we had a giant of the disability rights movement in our midst.” Vic developed the idea that disability might be the creation of the society in which disabled people lived rather than impairment. That led to a movement that brought changes all of us benefit from now including access into buildings and transport and disabled voices in media and arts changing society for the better. “Many if not most disabled people would argue there is much left to be done, but without Vic’s theorising and his steadfast non-compromising position, those changes might never have happened,” Joanna said.

He had an enormously powerful influence on the way the OU taught and continues to teach in health and social care. He put the OU at the forefront of teaching and thinking about disability. Vic was nominated in 2012 by the OU Centre of Health and Social to give his name to AOUG’s new Award but permission needed to be gained from his family before this could be officially accepted. Thus in 2012 when it was first presented, his was awarded without a name attached. Full permission was granted from his daughters and the Award officially took his name for the 2013 presentation.

Previous Winners
2019 Angela Willis
2018 Lucy Mackay Timber
2017 Rachel France
2016 Jeff Hunt
2013 Alison Davies
2012 Peter Scourfield