Alan Counsell as a teacher

My brother used to carry me on his back to school: Disability History Month

Alan Counsell is 79. He is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Alan remembers his struggle to get an education and find a job:

Being carried to school

The Headmistress at the school had refused to take me, and my Grandmother was formidable, absolutely formidable, where I was concerned: and through that visit I got to go to school, with the rest of the family; and my brother, can you imagine this –  I thought nothing of it until I got older. I was five; my brother was about nine. He used to carry me on his back to school in the morning. Came for me during playtime, that means he carried me around because I couldn’t walk; carried me home at lunchtime, carried me back after school after lunch, and carried me back after school in the afternoon. That’s a bit much, you know, for a nine-year-old, to carry a five-year-old, and he did that every day and never complained.

I wanted to be a librarian

I wanted to be a librarian, and the careers officer Mr Jolly said, “No way, no way, could you ever do anything like that,” and what came back was a voice from the side, and that was the headmaster, who said, “Now then, how can you say that, because you don’t know our Alan: he can do whatever he wants.”

Working in a subnormality hospital

In the end, I got into trouble one day, big trouble, and I was absolutely furious because of my own experience. I couldn’t stop thinking that had the education authorities have had their way, when they said I was mentally defective, I could have ended up as a patient in that hospital; and that was a rather daunting thought: and they had a block, a ward, called ‘H Block’, and, you know, they had ABCD wards. H was a ward for low-grade patients; that meant their intelligence was very low, and they also had behaviour problems. Many of them had to be restrained for a time; every student had to do at least one month on H Block, and my first day there I just lost it. I went into orbit, oh, terrible. We had to feed the patients, and the staff on the ward got a main course and a dessert and mixed them both together, and fed it to the patients. I couldn’t do that. I kept thinking, ‘This could be me’, you know, ‘this could be me’. There’s no way I’d want my food like that: so I refused to do it…

Alan Counsell at desk
Alan Counsell at desk

In 1969, Alan became a teacher at Meldreth Manor School. He continues to have a keen interest in education, through visits to schools and through his writing and training.

Listen to Alan’s interview on the Disability Voices website.

Books by Alan Counsell