Disabled People's Direct Action Network

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The Disabled People's Direct Action Network (DAN), was a group of radical disabled people in Britain campaigning for civil rights, with high-profile street demonstrations involving civil disobedience, rallies and protests, demanding accessible public transport (mass transit) and later for independent living, "free our people".

Prior campaigns[edit]

In 1989 the Derbyshire Direct Action Now Network (DDANN) was formed by local disabled people to protest against the pedestrianisation of Chesterfield. These protests resulted in police arrests and court hearings, where disabled people refused to plead guilty, all reading out the same defence[1] to the court. One of the DDANN protesters was Alan Holdsworth,[2] employed by the Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People (DCDP) as a community link worker, along with many DCDP members including Ken Davis.[3]

Between 1990 and 1993 the London-based Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT) held street demonstrations including Oxford Street. Its organisers included Tracey Proudlock, Sue Elsegood, and Alan Sutherland as the press officer. [source: GMCDP archive, Manchester]

On 22 November 1991 in Leeds a protest by 150 disabled people and allies outside the BBC studios picketed the Children in Need live broadcasting under the banner of Rights Not Charity Group. Eight people were arrested, four were disabled people.

On 18 July 1992 in London, over a thousand disabled people hold a protest outside the ITV studios (London Weekend TV) picketing the Telethon live broadcasting under the banner of Block Telethon. ITV later abandoned the Telethon approach. The main organisers were Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth, who had organised a smaller, similar protest against the Telethon broadcast in 1990 and had done further development work preparing for the 1992 protest.[4]

Early years[edit]

The idea was to build on and sustain the campaigning energy from the Block Telethon protest, and in 1993 a weekend residential conference was held by about 15 interested disabled people using the guest rooms in the grounds of the Disabled Drivers Association at Ashwellthorpe Hall near Norwich. The debate was essentially between creating a general civil rights campaign or creating a campaign based on specific target issues, starting with inaccessible public transport. The eventual vote was in favour of specific targets, the argument being that it would visibly engage more disabled people.

The first public action by DAN was in July 1993 in Christchurch when a Parliamentary by-election was unexpectedly called, and the Conservative candidate, tipped to win, had previously taken a hostile position in the House of Commons by opposing new legislation which would have given civil rights to disabled people to legally challenge discrimination. He lost the election, and it showed that DAN had political clout and skills at a national level. [source: GMCDP archive, Manchester]

Structure and Methods[edit]

DAN was a network of individual disabled people and allies. The network maintained coverage across the UK through a team of regional organisers.

A national committee of disabled people existed for most of DAN's active years, including many of the regional organisers. A newsletter was produced, especially in the build-up and winding-down from a major action.

National Actions[edit]

Over the years DAN organised around 60 actions [listed in GMCDP archive, Manchester] of which around 15 were national actions. Typically a local action took place on a single day, whereas national actions developed into three-day long events, usually from Friday to Sunday.

The Christchurch protest was the first national action, followed by Trafalgar Square, Westminster Central Hall (both 1994), Cardiff, Birmingham (1995), Nottingham, Derby (1996), London, Bristol (1997), London, Newcastle, Hull (1998), Bournemouth, London (1999) and London (2001). [source: GMCDP archive, Manchester]


In the UK in May 1997 there was a change of government with the Labour party winning and with Tony Blair MP as the new Prime Minister. However, many disabled people had misgivings about the unclear proposals coming from the New Labour government ministers on what was called by some, welfare reform, and called cuts by others. On 22 December 1997 DAN and other organisations had organised a one-day protest against these forthcoming cuts, held in Trafalgar Square. A group of "Danners" broke away from this rally and headed down Whitehall towards the gates of Downing Street. They had red paint hidden inside paper coffee cups, and throwing the paint on themselves they protested on the floor in front of the gates for the TV news crews that were stationed there for any sudden political news reasons. The protest was named after one of the banners, "Blair's Blood". As well as being shown on UK national news, the protest details and images went around the world, including the front page of the New York Times.[5] [6] Although there were cuts in welfare benefits for disabled people, and especially after 2010 and the austerity programme of the Coalition government, it can be argued that the 1997 protest at least paused these cuts for some years.[7] This campaigning has continued in the UK with Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC.

On 20 November 2001, supported by DAN in the UK and disabled people's campaigns across all the European Union countries, and coordinated by the European Disability Forum[8] and the Buses for All[9] campaign, all new buses used anywhere in the EU had to be fully accessible by EU law, with a timetable. Double deckers were the last bus type to become fully accessible.[10]


In 1995 the TV documentary Desperate DAN was broadcast as part of the Over the Edge series of BBC disability programming. It focused on national actions by DAN members in London and Cardiff.[citation needed]

On 19 May 2020 the BBC announced it had commissioned Dragonfly Film and TV Productions and One Shoe Productions to make a dramatised account of aspects of DAN for future broadcasting on BBC2 TV channel in the UK. The basis of the programme will centre on two DAN members and on the political debates within the disabled people's movement leading up to the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995,[11] regarded by many disabled people as a compromised and inadequate law for their civil rights.[12] The rationale for the programme is to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of that law (which was later absorbed into the Equality Act 2010).


  1. ^ Davis K. and Mullender (1993). Ten Turbulent Years. DCDP.
  2. ^ "Alan Holdsworth". National Disability Arts Collection & Archive. 22 May 2020.
  3. ^ Davis K and Davis M (2019). To and From Grove Road. TBR Imprint. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9781913148089.
  4. ^ Lisicki, Barbara (2018). "Block Telethon 1992 - the day we pissed on pity". NDACA.
  5. ^ "When Disabled People took to the streets". BBC. 7 Nov 2015.
  6. ^ "Blair's Blood and DAN". Tony Baldwinson. 22 May 2020.
  7. ^ ""Old school" Danners on action with DPAC". Disabled People Against Cuts. 20 June 2012.
  8. ^ "European Disability Forum". 22 May 2020.
  9. ^ Baldwinson, Tony (2012). Buses for All (Europe) - a case study. TBR Imprint. ISBN 9780957260603.
  10. ^ EU Buses and Coaches Directive (2001/85/EC). European Union. 2001.
  11. ^ "Independence Day (working title)". BBC. 19 May 2020.
  12. ^ Pearson C. and Watson N. (January 2007). "Tackling Disability Discrimination in the United Kingdom: The British Disability Discrimination Act". Journal of Law & Policy.