Joan Ross

Joan Ross: A life remembered, 1939 – 2017

Joan Ross, a contributor to Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project, died in January. Born with cerebral palsy in 1939 (when disabled children didn’t have to have an education), she went on to become  a language teacher, girl guide leader, advice officer for 17 years at Haringey Disabilities Consortium and a published author.

Using extracts from her interview in the British Library Sound Archive, we celebrate her life.

Going to schoolJoan as a child in a black and white photo

“My mother took it for granted that I was entitled to education like everyone else… She wanted me to be able to read so that I could read to myself and so on. She saved for me to go to a little private school very near where we lived, but they refused to have me so she tried the local infants school that was all on one level, and they were very reluctant. The headmistress did want to take me, she was willing to have me, but the education authority weren’t happy about me going and I didn’t have to go to school; it wasn’t compulsory.

So my mum decided to go to the education offices every day to ask them when they were going to find a place for me at this school she had in mind, and one day when she went she heard one of them say, ‘That Ross woman is here again’, and so she said, ‘Yes. And I’ll be here again tomorrow until you offer me a place for my daughter at school’.

So they did agree to place me in the school that she’d chosen, on condition that she came there and took me to the toilet twice a day, maybe more, fed me at lunch time; the teachers would teach me but nothing else, no personal care. But she was willing to do that and I was very happy there.”

Brownies and Guides

“We had a uniform which made me feel one of them. Our school icwbicc-24didn’t have a uniform so I enjoyed having an identity. I enjoyed the badge-work in Guides because that was way of proving myself.

“We didn’t really take a lot of exams and that at school, so this was a way of stretching myself and proving myself. The Guides, once they realised that I was just the same as them, except I was in a wheelchair, accepted me and I really felt one of them.

“After I left school. I was still in the Rangers, the senior part of the Guides, and one of the things the Rangers did was help with Cubs and Brownies, so I was delighted when I was asked if I would like to help with a Brownie pack, and I did that for about a year, or maybe longer. And then my own church Brownie pack was without a leader and I longed to offer to take over the pack but I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to be turned down. So I was delighted when I was approached to actually do that, and I did it for 15 years.

And it really compensated for not working because it gave me an important job to do which took a lot of time but was very worthwhile.”

Looking for work

“I kept on looking out for jobs. I went to a few interviews and some of them were better then others, but nothing very promising.

“There was nobody to advise me. I went to the job centre to see a disablement resettlement officer, but she really didn’t seem to have a clue how to help me. And so I just looked up jobs and I wrote to the Director of Social Services in Haringey and I did have an interview, which looked quite promising…

“They wanted to set up an advice and right centre for handicapped people in Islington in the day centre, which would deal with telephone enquiries on benefits and also lots of problems relating to disability.

“And I applied for that job and got it and it was an amazing experience.

“I wasn’t teaching but I was helping other disabled people and
carers and expanding my knowledge all the time. I went on training courses and the project was managed by the Citizens’ Advice
Bureau so we were able to go to their training courses as well.

“And the scheme lasted the year and… they hoped that they would get more funding for it to continue but when the year was up no funding materialised, at a time when the centre – it was called ARCH [Advice and Rights Centre for the Handicapped] by the way – and it was really making very good progress and helping a lot of people, and we just couldn’t abandon it because the project wasn’t being
funded. I had another worker – there were two workers on the scheme – the other person was disabled as well, he was called Melvin, and we decided to carry on working for ARCH voluntarily for another year.”

Joan’s commitment to her community then led to her being an advice officer for 17 years at Haringey Disabilities Consortium.

To hear Joan’s interview in full, go to the the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive.

Joan Ross and Lynda Bellingham
Joan Ross and Lynda Bellingham at the launch of Joan’s book

Read Joan’s autobiography, I Can’t Walk, But I Can Crawl.