Offsite 26 Nov 2019 Free

Rights to… brought together parents, carers, educators, activists, and artists to ask how we can create a network of support and solidarity and resist disability discrimination in the education system.


The Special Rights* booklet, published by the Serpentine Galleries in 2018, shares the stories of how children labelled with ‘special educational needs and disabilities’ are failed, ignored and excluded by the education system. A year on from the publication launch, Rights to… brought together people who care.

In the face of ongoing funding cuts, this event asked: How best do we come together to create a network of support and solidarity? How might adopting a rights approach improve experiences for children?

Special Rights was a long term collaboration between artists Emma McGarry and Adam J B Walker, and children, their parents and workers from the Portman Early Childhood Centre in North Westminster. The project is part of Changing Play, an ongoing partnership between the Serpentine and the Portman Early Childhood Centre, which brings together artists, children, families and educators to critically reconsider early years education and care.

The forum included contributions from workers and parents from the Portman Early Childhood Centre, artist Adam J B Walker, disability rights campaigner Michelle Daley, disability activist David Ruebain, curator Yates Norton and researcher Katherine Runswick-Cole. This was followed by a workshop, where attendees could work through the questions and themes raised during the event in small groups.

Walker presented a sound piece made in collaboration with staff, parents and carers from the Portman Early Childhood Centre about their struggles with discrimination in the education system.

Writer and researcher Katherine Runswick Cole explored the important role that language plays in the lives of disabled children and considered the possibilities of engaging with the arts as a way of making injustice visible and to address inequality.

Disability rights activist David Ruebain and curator Yates Norton talked about interdependency as a form of resistance and the role of allyship; a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability.

Michelle Daley is interim Director at ALLFIE (The Alliance for Inclusive Education) and spoke about ALLFIE’s campaign for desegregated schooling and share tools for change.

*Please note due to feedback from our collaborators, we changed the title of this event to reflect our commitment to inclusive education.

*Rights to… was previously known as Special Rights. In consultation with our partners, we have removed the word ‘special’ which can be read as advocating for a separatist environment within schools and society. If you would like to read more about this please see here.

Michelle Daley is the interim Director at the Alliance for Inclusive Education. Daley been involved in disability rights movement at a grassroots level for over 10 years. Michelle project managed and led on the implementation of the Conference on UK Disability and Development Cooperation for Disabled People and Representatives of Disabled People’s Organisations. She is also the Chair of their Reclaiming Our Future Alliance international committee and co-chair of Independent Living Alternative one of the key personal assistant services in England.

David Ruebain is long-standing disability activist. He is Chief Executive of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama and prior to that Chief Executive of Equality Challenge Unit, a policy and research agency funded to advance equality & diversity in the UK further and higher education and research sectors. Before that, he was a practicing solicitor for 21 years; latterly as Director of Legal Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain following a career in private practice as a Partner at and founder of the Department of Education, Equality and Disability Law at Levenes Solicitors. Ruebain is also a Visiting Professor of Law at Birkbeck University of London, Trustee of Action on Disability and Development, a member of the Rights & Justice Committee of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Advisory Board of the Wellcome Trust and a Fellow of the British American Project.

Yates Norton is a curator currently working at Rupert, Vilnius, where he works closely with the residents, and is one of the coordinating curators for the Public programmes, which includes exhibitions, talks and events, and the Alternative Education programme. He completed his studies at the University of Cambridge, UK, Harvard University, US and the Courtauld Institute, UK.

The Portman Early Childhood Centre provides education, care and family support services for young children and their families living in the Church Street area of Westminster, North London. These include a nursery school, adult education classes, family support, employment services, parenting groups and workshops.

Adam J B Walker has recently exhibited with both artist run project spaces such as Vulpes Vulpes and Skelf Site, as well as institutions such as Camden Arts Centre, Tate and the ICA. Residencies undertaken include the SWAP UK/Ukraine British Council residency in Kyiv and the Paradox residency in Poznan, Poland. He is currently undertaking a practice-led PhD at the Royal College of Art interrogating the potential for criticality in the relationship between labour and identity under contemporary socio-economic conditions. Prior to this, he studied at Chelsea College of Art, Camberwell College of Arts and Cambridge University.

Katherine Runswick-Cole is Professor of Education in The School of Education at The University of Sheffield. Runswick-Cole has developed a research career in the area of Critical Disability Studies (CDS). CDS seek to understand to understand and challenge exclusionary and oppressive practices associated with disablism and to consider the ways in which these intersect with other forms of marginalisation including hetero/sexism, racism, poverty and imperialism. She carries out her work in co-production with disabled children and young people, as well as working alongside people labelled with learning disabilities and family members and allies. She is the mother of two grown up children, one of whom has attracted the label of ‘learning disability’.


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