This film is part of Free


Do wheelchairs liberate or constrain? The early years of Stoke Mandeville hospital and the Paralympics.

1964 10 mins



Are wheelchairs symbols of liberation or do they constrain disabled people’s lives? This 1964 film introduces us to the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, which helps newly-disabled people to recover from spinal trauma and live independently. Although not allowed to speak for themselves, the people in the film show a remarkable tenacity to lead an ordinary (the film describes it as “normal”) life. It includes scenes from the International Stoke Mandeville Games, which eventually became the Paralympics.

Wheelchair users often describe their ‘chair as a tool for enabling independent living - an object of liberation, rather than an object that binds you. The film reinforces this view. However, with its eagerly optimistic tone, it also skates over the often complicated and sometimes painful physical and psychological transition from non-disabled to disabled person. The film includes footage of a unique housing development that was designed to be fully accessible for wheelchairs. These days, accessible housing is being integrated into mainstream design and housing developments, rather than being segregated into a separate estate. In 2012, the BBC broadcast the film The Best of Men about Ludwig Guttman, the German refugee neurologist who transformed Stoke Mandeville and created the Paralympic games.