Tuesday, 26 November 2013


That was 25 years ago
Is it still held today?

Vic Finkelstein, disability activist and psychologist, visited Budapest in November 1988, at the height of the UK's great enthusiasm for Conductive Education. He was unimpressed by the Pető Institute's attitudes and the city's accessibility alike.

He subsequently published an extensive feature in the now defunct newspaper Therapy Weekly, stating the paradox of what struck him in Budapest and on a separate visit to New York –

Why did I feel so disabled in Budapest, where the world famous institute emphasises normality, and refreshingly normal in New York where disabled people have been in the forefront of campaigning for their rights as disabled people?
His article was influential in the backlash against Conductive Education in the UK and, though Therapy Weekly itself never made it to an online edition, the content of Vic Finkelstein's article did:

This has been widely cited in the academic/professional press. Along with Mike Oliver's, Vic Finkelstein's views were highly instrumental in shaping the negative view of Conductive Education of a generation or more of professionals in the UK –

Despite the extraordinary helpfulness of my Hungarian hosts who made every effort to provide assistance wherever this was needed a week in inaccessible Budapest, being the odd one out, stared at and immobile, took a steady toll. I felt thoroughly disabled and, for me, this found its ultimate expression in the values and goals of the Pető Institute...

As I sat listening to an able-bodied staff member making over-confident and somewhat trite assumptions about what were proper goals for disabled people I felt myself slipping into the final stages of resigned passivity that characterises so many disabled people who are overwhelmed by failure to make their way in the able-bodied world...

Let's face it, it is highly desirable to campaign and set up systems for good medical practice in relation to disabled children and adults so that we can be physically comfortable, free from pain and illness. But it seems to me that this does not imply spending ten years of one's life trying to be ‘normal’. There are a lot better ways of spending one's time and energy, discovering the delights of life, particularly in these exciting times when there are real prospects for disabled people to create their own role models and to define their own contribution to the welfare of society...

What a curious contradiction. In Budapest the Pető Institute concentrates on trying to make disabled people normal. The philosophy of ‘normality’ is paramount. As a result there is no recognition of disability as a ‘construction’ of the social and physical environment. The longer I stayed in Hungary the more disabled I felt – anxious, vulnerable and dependent. In New York there is a move towards accepting disabled people as citizens with normal rights. As a result disability is reduced by policies involving barrier-removal in the social and physical environment. The longer I stayed in the USA the less disabled I felt - increasingly confident in my ability to function and pursue my own interests.

Conductive Education is no longer anywhere near the top of the disability agenda. Were it ever to return to public prominence, then Vic Finkelstein's formulations could be ready and waiting for it. Many in CE today around the world are rather more sophisticated in their views on disability than what he perceived in Budapest in 1988, and modern-day Finkelsteins might not react so negatively to Conductive Education in the many places where they might now met it.

Vic Finkelstein died in 2011. Twenty-five years on from his visit to Budapest, it remains instructive to look back on what he thought and wrote.


Oliver, M. (2011) Vic Finkelstein obituary, Guardian, 22 December

Finkelstein, V. (1990) A Tale of Two Cities, Therapy Weekly, 22 March

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Blogger NormanP said...

Vic Finkelstein found what he was looking for. That was my conclusion on first reading this years ago and is my conclusion now. He was a leading political and theoretical voice for a view of disability that "the problems faced by disabled people were caused by society's failure to take account of their needs, not by their impairments". Whilst this was without doubt an important and necessary statement then, one that still has very large sway over public policy, it has had the effect of making it more difficult, not less, to advocate for services for those who, unlike Finkelstein himself, were in CE terms, not orthofunctional. In this regard, he was not the first and will not be the last, to have missed altogether the transformational educative intent of CE.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 04:54:00 GMT  
Blogger Eleonora Tamasne said...

"in New York where disabled people have been in the forefront of campaigning for their rights as disabled people?" Well, maybe 25 years ago, but today we could only wish. One thing is for sure, kids with motor challenges are not given the chance to learn in the US. The system fails them in therapy setting and in schools. Discrimination is daily but nobody talks about it. "Look the other way, and you don't have a problem." I think that should be the motto. The more I work here the clearer the picture gets. Firstly, professionals who have never seen a severe quadriplegic child sit independently and feed himself will never believe it is possible. From day one they are trained how get a supportive chair for the kid and a wheelchair and a stander and so on....... They cannot know. They don't have the faintest idea of possible outcomes. Secondly, they don't know how to educate/teach and don't understand the child as a whole and what it involves to achieve progress. Before anybody jumps at my throat I'll give an example. I have been working with a kid who had extreme trunk thrust 3 years ago when we first met. Today this kid sits on a small ladderback chair at the plinth independently, holding a grasp bar and eats with minimal facilitation to maintain grasp on the spoon. Chair is not touching the kid's back, I never touch the child's back. The kid is fully aware of sitting and I am able to step away if I need to get something. The same kid is strapped in a supportive chair in school and people wonder why lots of bouncing and rocking and sliding and........takes place. I am asking: "Really? You don't know?" Today I had the child's classroom aide visit my session and the person could not believe this kid was the same kid. Sad, very sad. Everything we have achieved in the last 3 years disappears under the watchful eyes of therapists and school professionals. This is just one story out of the hundreds and it never seems to end. So, what is this kid's rights? To be strapped in a chair is the kid's fate? Having serious orthopedic problems and surgeries is the future for this child? Is this the best that a very highly talked about professional system in the US can provide? Am I supposed to just watch and go with the flow? Well, that won't happen. One must to say what one believes. I will stand up and shout until the world accepts that this kid is capable of learning if this kid is given a chance and an opportunity. Happy Thanksgiving America!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 04:57:00 GMT  
Blogger Andrew Sutton said...

Thanking you, both.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 07:19:00 GMT  
Blogger Andrew Sutton said...

Second posting on this topic:


Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 07:50:00 GMT  

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