A Life Without Limits tells the story of the extraordinary life and times of Sir Bert Massie. The book provides a chronology of his experiences, commencing in humble circumstances in Liverpool. Reference to the importance of family is one of the constant themes throughout this book, and there is a very real sense that this is one of the things which kept Sir Bert grounded.
We then follow Sir Bert’s progress through the educational system, from his early days in Greenbank onwards. One of the interesting features of these stories is the progressive feel to the experiences being outlined. This is particularly the case when set against contemporary debates around current Special Educational Needs and Disability Provision, and the difficulties experienced by many parents around equitable access to services to meet the needs of their children.
These stories reminded me of the importance of a good education, and its capacity to act as a springboard (and its corresponding absence as a large potential barrier) to peoples life prospects. Via recounting his formative years, Sir Bert also affords the reader a glimpse into the emergent character traits that would serve him so well throughout his adult life, particularly including his sense of humour, tenacity and perceptiveness regarding the world around him. The ability to inject a sense of presence into the way Sir Bert tells his life story is one of the features of this book which make it an entertaining and informative read. I found myself making the way through his account with real ease as a result of its engaging and warm style.
At various points in the book, I was also struck at how there seemed to be more assistance available to Sir Bert as he progressed through his life than arguably is available today. Having access to employment opportunities through provisions such as the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944 is a good example. I found myself thinking that such measures had a very progressive feel to them as compared to the current challenges posed by austerity and welfare reform.
In learning about the aspects of Sir Bert’s life as he traces his way into the world of motoring via the Invacar and progression through the education system and then success in the workplace, the book also demonstrates a further feature of its value. It is in some ways a history of disability social policy and the disability rights movement as told through the eyes of one person who played a key part of it. In a very real sense, this book gave me a means of understanding the history of the disability movements which were the forerunners of today.
As the book progresses, we learn more about Sir Bert’s entry into such movements, as he outlines his journey from being a self described ‘embryonic activist’ to an influential figure in shaping government policy for disabled people. In here, there is another gem which reveals itself at the heart of the recollections presented. Through the telling of his experiences, Sir Bert shows us the importance of having a ‘seat at the table’, and of being able to influence others for the benefit of disabled people in the process. Through making my way in the book, I had a sense that I could have learned a lot from how Sir Bert chose to work to make life better for disabled people.
I won’t add in any more spoilers at this point. If you want to find out more – you will have to read it for yourself. This book is a great read, and I’d really recommend it.
A Life Without Limits By Sir Bart Massie is published by Mereo Books, and is available here.