Sunday, 4 September 2011


The way things were

As Conductive Education burst on to the public agenda in the United Kingdom in the late nineteen-eighties, it found powerful enemies ready to oppose it. These included, in no especial order of merit:
  • some big disability charities (Public Enemy Number 1: the Spastics Society)
  • some existing special schools
  • some of the special-education establishment
  • many therapists (especially physiotherapists) and rehabilitation doctors
  • many of the 'five-principles' people
  • many in the inclusion movement
  • many in the disability movement
To a large degree, similar oppositionist tendencies followed Conductive Education around the English-speaking world, with one exception: nowhere else did CE seem to attract the virulent opposition of an articulate, 'academic' wing of the disability movement, at anything like the degree that it did in the United Kingdom.

Conductive Education as oppression

Here is an example, from an influential spokesman (himself paraplegic) and, by focusing upon 'walking', helped confirm a major public and professional misunderstanding. Further, this particular statement was made in a professorial inaugural address, thereby conferring  further academic imprimatur 
The ideology of normality permeates most rehabilitation practice; from paediatrics through rheumatology and on to geriatrics. One example of where it surfaces is the current `success' of conductive education. Many disabled people are profoundly disturbed by the ideology underpinning conductive education which I have likened to the ideology of Nazism (Oliver 1989).
Lest anyone should be unclear about what's wrong with conductive education, its pursuit of nearly walking to the detriment of family, social and community life for many disabled children, can only be countenanced as therapeutic intervention.
If able-bodied children were taken from their local school, sent to a foreign country, forced to undertake physical exercise for all their waking hours to the neglect of their academic education and social development; we would regard it as unacceptable and the children concerned would rapidly come to the attention of the child protection mafia. But in the lives of disabled children (and adults too), anything goes as long as you call it therapeutic.
What can be pernicious about ideology is not simply that it enables these issues to be ignored but sometimes it turns them on their heads. Hence conductive education is not regarded as child abuse but as something meriting social applause, as something to make laudatory television programmes about, as something worthy of royal patronage, and finally as something that should be funded by government and big business alike.
The reality, not the ideology of conductive education, and indeed many other rehabilitation practices, is that they are oppressive to disabled people and an abuse of their human rights. We should not pretend it is any other way.
Oliver M (1989) Conductive Education: If it wasn't so sad it would be funny, Disability Handicap & Society, vol. 4, no 2, pp. 197-200
Mike Oliver's complete inaugural address, from which the above passage has been extracted, can be seen at:


The brief published article from 1989, referred to above, is now of course on line:

I had been shown Mike Oliver's original draft of this article, in the form in which it was originally submitted to the journal Disability Handicap & Society. That was before referees and editors cut it back and toned it down for publication. The unmoderated version went beyond merely standing Conductive Education alongside the Holocaust, it compared Mária Hári with Adolf Hitler.

To say the least this could be regarded as a mite culturally insensitive. And given that at the time Mária was still very much alive it was potentially hurtful as well – in view of her own close brush with transport to Auschwitz (or something more summary). In the event, however, that bit at least did not see its way into print.

Days gone by

I suppose that the opposition generated by Conductive Education in those days, and the spleen vented along the way, was a mark of how serious a threat Conductive Education was felt to be by established interests. Conductive Education in the United Kingdom today, however, no longer  poses such a thread, and is no longer regarded as 
...something meriting social applause, as something to make laudatory television programmes about, as something worthy of royal patronage, and finally as something that should be funded by government and big business alike (ibid.).
Far from it! Further, as far as I know, elsewhere in the world it never attained anything like this degree of public attention. Indeed, as I am frequently reminded, it has now been largely forgotten outside of a narrow range of local and personal interests. 

Professor Oliver and his followers played his own small but significant role in this change in the Zeitgeist.

Echoing on

And their voice reverberates still:

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Anonymous Andrew Sutton said...

There is more recent and more agreeably expressed discussion on this under the title : powered mobility and Conductive Education: where do YOU stand on this?

Twelve-years-old-year old Yam and his father Rubi present their video, 'The advantages of using a powered wheelchair at young age', and argue their case.

Points of view come from Robbie O'Shea (United States), Erin DeCarlo (United States), Susie Mallett (Germany), Rony Schenker (Israel) and Erzsébet Balogh (Hungary).

You are very welcome to add your own:

Monday, 5 September 2011 at 20:24:00 BST  

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