Gearing up for discussion about the social history of disability

A passion for a rare type of vehicle once used by society’s most vulnerable people has led renowned artist Simon McKeown on a personal journey.

Simon, a Reader in Teesside University’s School of Computing, Media & the Arts, is igniting discussion about the social history of disability through his work to preserve the memory of invalid carriages.

Issued by the Government after World War One to help disabled people travel independently, invalid carriages were primitive in their nature and powered by hand for solitary travel.

By the 1970s the carriages were a distinctive bright blue, but they were eventually discontinued and it is believed there are now just over 400 left in the world today.

Simon, who has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant to explore and exhibit the hidden and neglected heritage of invalid carriages, has been urging people who have memories of them to share images, memorabilia, video footage or stories which may help to inform his work.

As part of this project, Simon will present a talk, The Extreme World of ‘AC cars, Invalid Carriages and Cripples’, at 6.00pm on Thursday 17 January at Preston Park Museum, Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees. Admission is free and open to all.

Simon, who is himself disabled, remembers his granddad having an invalid carriage and recalls how the vehicles were extremely primitive by today’s standards and only suitable for one person. The vehicles were prone to break down and it was a common sight to find people stranded on their own.

He has one of the world’s largest collections of invalid carriages, with 26 currently in his fleet. His interest in the preserving their memory and examining what happened to the rest of Britain’s invalid carriages led him to appear in a recent BBC Four television documentary on the history of the NHS.

Simon, who has exhibited his varied work all over the world, is working with Disability North, along with graduates in the University’s School of Computing, Media & the Arts’ Digital Studio, to create 3D animations and other digital assets as part of a major exhibition.

He said: “There is a great beauty in these cars and we want to recognise their historical importance and present them in a way that will engage a whole new audience.”

Anyone with an interest in getting involved in the project and exhibition to research the history of the vehicles can contact Simon on