Mike Oliver (disability advocate)

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Michael James Hoiles Oliver[1] (3 February 1945 – 2 March 2019)[2] was a British sociologist, author, and disability rights activist. He was the first Professor of Disability Studies in the world, and key advocate of the social model of disability.

Early life[edit]

Oliver was born in Chatham, and grew up in Borstal near Rochester in Kent. He attended grammar school, leaving at 16 to work as a payroll clerk. He broke his neck in 1962 while on holiday, and was treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. He used a wheelchair after his accident.[3]

He returned home after a year of rehabilitation. He worked in adult education at Borstal Prison (a Young Offenders Institution now HM Prison Rochester) and then took a degree in sociology. He started his degree at the University of Reading in 1971, but the support arrangements were inadequate and he left after a few weeks. He completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Kent, followed by a master's, and a doctorate completed in 1978.[3]

Academic career[edit]

From 1979, he ran a course on Social Work with Disabled People at the University of Kent. He published a book on Social Work with Disabled People in 1983.[3]

Oliver published his book on The Politics of Disablement in 1990. He became a key advocate of the social model of disability. This is the idea that much of the inconvenience and difficulty of living with a disability is not an inherent feature of the disability itself, but a failure of society to adapt to the needs of disabled people. While the distinction between "impairment" and "disability" had been made by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation, Oliver coined the term "social model" to describe this distinction, and popularized it. He also coined the term "Emancipatory disability studies" by which he meant that researchers must not be "parasites" but instead serve the interests of disabled people.

At the time he retired, he was Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich.


His major publications include:

  • Oliver, Michael (1990). The politics of disablement. London: Macmillan Education. ISBN 9780333432938.
  • Oliver, Michael (1991). Social work : disabled people and disabling environments. London: J. Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 9781853020421.
  • Oliver, Michael (1996). Understanding disability : from theory to practice. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan. ISBN 9780333599167.
  • Oliver, Michael; Barnes, Colin (2012). The new politics of disablement. Houndmills, Basingstoke New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780333945674.


  1. ^ "Mike Oliver obituary". the Guardian. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  2. ^ "In Memoriam: Mike Oliver", The Nation, 8 March 2019. Retrieved 16 March 2019
  3. ^ a b c johnboy (9 March 2019). "Britain is no country for old men: Britain is a country which once made and has now lost its Giant of Disability Rights Activism and Father of the Social Model, Professor Mike Oliver". Britain is no country for old men. Retrieved 14 August 2022.

External links[edit]