Professor Mike Oliver, updated to include the many tributes we've received


It is with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Professor Mike Oliver, the first professor of disability studies in the UK, here at Greenwich.

Professor Mike Oliver was born on 3 February 1945. He died on 3 March 2019, aged 74.

He was known as a passionate disability scholar and activist who was credited with coining the term 'social model'  He was in the Department of Social Sciences and Law, part of the School of Humanities at the time and subsequently was a Visiting Professor until early 2014.

Since learning of the news of Professor Oliver's death we have received many tributes, which we want to share:

I am saddened to hear the death of such an influential member of the disabled community. The social model of disability was a vital part of how disabled students, including me, were able to access higher education. Society still has a long way to go to become inclusive and accessible but the University of Greenwich *AccessAbility and STAART scheme is a vital step in the right direction and we will continue Mike Oliver's legacy, with enabling disabled and dyslexic students access to Higher Education. 
May he rest in power. 

Abi, *AccessAbility Ambassador & Disabled Students' Officer 2018/9

I would like to thank him for inspiring my MA Dissertation; of which without the social model theory, it would have been a very bleak piece of work indeed. 

Louise, *AccessAbility Graduate and Study Skills Tutor.

I had the pleasure of meeting Prof Mike Oliver in 1993 when I had recently graduated from Manchester Poly with a Psychology degree. Armed with my new knowledge of the social model and keen to meet one of the rock stars of disability studies I arranged to get the train down to Greenwich to meet him to talk to him about doctoral research. I was greeted by Prof Oliver in his office and remember taking a seat which was low to the ground. This meant that he towered above me in his wheelchair and I recall thinking that this was a minor social model in practice moment. We chatted for an hour. Just before I left he informed me 'You know, psychology will only exist as a sub-discipline of sociology, if that'. Hilarious. But true. 

Dan Goodley  Professor of Disability Studies and Education. University of Sheffield

Mike was responsible for making me the activist and academic I am today, he introduced me to the social model of disability as a young postgraduate student and it was eye-opening. One story from his time at Kent was that he always used to call Faculty meetings in inaccessible rooms, to bring home the point very succinctly when everyone was waiting around for him to turn up. He was the first academic I encountered that really 'put his money where his mouth was' and inspired me: until that point I thought you could be an activist OR an academic, and he showed me you had to be both. 

Kirstein Rummery, Professor of Social Policy, University of Stirling

I hope to add some lines to preserve the memory of this formidable campaigner and true thinker.  I would like to make a tribute with two personal notes. 

As many others worldwide, his work inspired me particularly to use his method as a tool to understand organisational process of change and resistance, and used his approach to adapt institutionalisation theory into the formation of social norms in HE organisations. I do also apply his model to develop an understanding of the impact of globalisation on the model framework. Without him, perhaps I would have not explored those areas of enquiry and work. 

I also had the privilege to entice him to come back to his Alma Mater (University of Kent) after so many years, to deliver a Master's Lecture for the University 50th anniversary (2015). Sadly, it was not possible to have him that year. The lecture however took place in 2018, by the stamina of disabled students, disability officers and staff in the university. It was a great success and a video was made following the event, which perhaps further and expand his legacy.  

I would like to add that Prof Oliver's doctoral thesis is in the archive of the Templeman Library at Kent. 

Dr Andres Velarde, University of Kent

I remember Mike well when I first started out as a student of the university many, many moons ago.  He was a truly inspirational person and a champion for disability issues.  Always so kind and willing to help where he could.  I have very fond memories of him. May he rest in peace. 

Marisa, Faculty of Education and Health, University of Greenwich

Professor Mike Oliver taught me as an undergraduate, in the mid-1990s. Later he, in conjunction with Dr Ross Coomber, gave me the chance to do my PhD, which was looking at the medicinal use of cannabis and chronically ill people. As well as being an academic of global reputation, and an activist, Mike was also a very patient person, generous with his time and hugely inspiring. That combination of global reputation and down-to-Earthness really encouraged me to believe that academia could be a career for myself. Mike will be greatly missed.    
Dr. Craig Morris School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Greenwich.

When I was a lecturer at the University of Kent (1986-98) and worked on the closure of large institutions in the South East Thames area, Mike Oliver was very supportive and instrumental in our thinking. I hope there are many with his values to follow in this corporate world we live in. 

Sheila Barrett, Programme Leader, BA Business Psychology, University of Greenwich

I am grateful and thankful for the social model of disability. Barriers do still exist but the environment is more accessibility. Disability and the barriers within – societal and attitudinal – need to be addressed for a fairer society. I am currently writing my dissertation on disability and advertising. The work of Professor Oliver is underpinning my research. 

Tope Onanuga, BA Advertising and Marketing Communications, University of Greenwich

The social model of disability is (I hope) intrinsic in all my work now.  It's been a big part of my working life for the last nearly 20 years since I first came across this radical idea.  It's emancipatory in approach and makes it the problem of all of us to identify and break down barriers to life and learning for disabled people.  Thanks to Mike Oliver for this. 

Lucy Smith, Student Wellbeing Coordinator (disability & dyslexia), University of Greenwich

This man was the reason why I now, as a disabled person, can live in a world where I am accepted as more than just a disabled person. 

Nu McAdam, BA Animation, University of Greenwich

I was fortunate to have been taught by Mike Oliver as a sociology undergraduate, here at the University of Greenwich. Being taught disability studies changed my career path entirely – I was studying to become an archivist. I have therefore been working in disability support for over 20 years at the university in various roles. Without Mike, our *AccessAbility Ambassadors and STAART initiative would not have happened. We like to think that we are carrying on Mike's work by making university more accessible for disabled students and staff.

Dr. Melanie Thorley, *AccessAbility and STAART Lead, University of Greenwich

With thanks to Dr Melanie Thorley for collating these tributes.