Armstrong, Keith (1950-2017) disability campaigner

ADMINISTRATIVEKeith Armstrong campaigning in Camden/BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY: Keith Armstrong was born in 1950 to John Armstrong and Frances (Nina) Armstrong (nee Waddilove). John and Nina had met in the UK during the Second World War – John was a Royal Navy volunteer from South Africa; Nina a local Wren. After the war, they married and returned to Cape Town, where John was killed in a car crash shortly before his son’s birth. At six months, Keith contracted polio, a condition that resulted in his becoming a wheelchair user from a young age. The family returned to the UK shortly after his diagnosis. Keith attended Ormerod School in Oxford before moving to Hephaistos School in Berkshire. From 1967 he was a pupil at the National Star Centre for Disabled Youth, Cheltenham.

Keith moved to London in 1972, aged 22. He initially found himself homeless, an experience that led him to join the Campaign for Homeless and Rootless as a volunteer housing advice officer, later working as a Disabilities Co-ordinator in housing for Ealing Council. However, it was his interest in promoting accessible public transport for people with disabilities which earned him a reputation as a committed campaigner. He joined the London Transport Passenger Committee in 1983, making him the first member with a disability. At the same time he became a committee member of Camden Dial-a-Ride, later becoming the chair of London Dial-a-Ride Users Association (LdnDAR) in 1989. As Chair, he launched a petition to Parliament pushing for improvements in the provision of accessible buses throughout the UK. His campaigning took him to other cities in the UK, France and the USA in a bid to study their public transport networks and report back to the London Transport Passenger Committee and the Campaign to Improve London Transport (CILT). He worked as a consultant for the GLC’s London Consortium on Disability, the GLC’s Transport Advisory Group, and the Southern & Eastern Region of the TUC Transport Division. In 1987 Keith was appointed Senior Transport Officer for London Strategic Policy Unit, a role he held until the unit was disbanded in 1986.

Keith lived in Somers Town throughout his adult life, and was active in the local community as a member of Tenants Right to Unite in Somers Town (TRUST), Somers Town Community Association and Churchway Tenants Association. He co-ordinated the legal defence group ‘Defend the 14 Campaign’, 1974-75, joined the Save the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital for Women campaign in 1976, and supported Rock Against Sexism in 1980. He was also an active member of the Camden Community Law Centre, and a founding member of the Liberation Network of People with Disabilities, established in 1979. In 1985 he took part in the National Union of Journalist’s initiative ‘Campaign for Real People’ which sought to address the representation of people with disabilities in the media. The following year he stood for election in Somers Town Ward, Camden Council, under the banner ‘Accessible Labour’. At the time he described himself as a ‘semi-professional musician, writer, artist, poet and transport consultant’.

Keith continued campaigning throughout the 1990s and 2000s with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), whose campaigning led to ramps in buses and improvements to Tube and train access, as well as the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

Keith was a scholar of the history and linguistics of disability, a poet and a typewriter artist. In 2017 a selection of his artwork was deposited at the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive at Buckinghamshire New University.

Keith lived in the London Borough of Camden until his death from cancer in 2017. He was survived by his brother Christopher and his sister Angela.

SCOPE AND CONTENT: Papers of Keith Armstrong, disability campaigner, including papers about the Advisory Panel to the London Committee on Accessible Transport, Anti-apartheid movement, Camden Against Ratecapping, Camden Community Law Centre, Camden Dial-a-Ride, Campaign for Accessible Transport, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Campaign for Real People, Campaign to Improve London’s Transport, Central London Dial-a-Ride, Churchway Tenants’ Association, Dial-a-Ride and Taxi Card Users Association, disability in the arts, Disabled in Camden, Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, Disablement Income Group, Federation of London Dial-a-Rides, Greater London Action on Disability, Greater London Centres for Independent Living, Law Centres Federation, Lets Get Together Atlanta, Liberation Network of People with Disabilities, London Careline, London Consortium on Disability Transport Advisory Group, London Dial-a-Ride Users Association, London Regional Passenger Committee, London Strategic Policy Unit Transport Unit, London Taxicard Users Association, London Transport Passengers Committee, Socialist Disability Action Group, Somers Town Community Association, Somers Town War Election 1986, South East Regional Trade Union Council Transport Working Party, and Tenants Rights Unite Somers Town, (c.1975-2008).

EXTENT: 18 boxes, 1 framed photograph.