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Scouser Bert was a true champion of the disabled; I Can Do That! alltogethernow.org WITH TOM DOWLING FOR PEOPLE WHO WON'T LET DISABILITY GET IN THE WAY.

Byline: alltogethernow.org WITH TOM DOWLING

A personal tribute to Sir Bert Massie, who died this week, aged 68. A Scouser through and through, Sir Bert spent his life campaigning for disabled people.

THE first time I heard of Bert Massie was way back in the bitterly cold and snow-filled winter of 1963, when I was just ten years old.

I'd taken a shine to two sisters living in a terraced house in Tweed Street, just opposite White Rock Street, where I lived, and was showing off my dodgy footballing skills outside their front door.

"I'm going to play for Everton," I told them, while trying, and failing, to juggle the ball from foot to foot.

"Oh, yeah, and our kid is going to be Prime Minister," came the instant reply.

They were talking about their 14-year-old brother, Bert.

"He's handicapped," said Audrey. "Polio."

"And he's in a handicapped school," added Georgina. "He can't play out."

Bert had spent the first five years of his life in Alder Hey Hospital, and for the next 10 years was carted off to residential schools for disabled children.

None of us kids ever saw or heard of him. It was as though he just didn't exist.

It was 20 years later that I heard his name again - ten years after a bullet in the spine had left me disabled, too.

I'd been thinking of starting a new disability-focused column in the ECHO to help readers affected by disability.

To get some advice, I phoned the boss of the country's leading disability rights organisation.

It turned out to be Bert "Hello, Bert Massie here," came the cheerful response. "A disability column in an evening newspaper? Excellent idea - and I'll help in any way I can!" That was in in October, 1983. And he has been helping me ever since.

Bert spent his life campaigning for a better deal for Britain's 11m people with disabilities.

Leaving Sandfield Park school at 16, and just about able to read and write, his careers officer described him as unemployable.

But Bert knew differently ... O-Levels at 20, A-Levels at 22, a degree at 25, and jobs that took him to faraway places that most of us - including that careers officer - will probably never get to.

And that's not to mention the OBE, CBE and a knighthood, which came in 2007, following his seven-year stint as chairman of the new Disability Rights Commission.

"Whether someone is disabled or not should not matter," he would say.

"Everyone should be treated fairly and be encouraged to fulfil their potential.

"It is so frustrating. Disability is just a part of life. If we live till 85, nine out of ten will have a disability of some kind."

For the past few years, Sir Bert has also been the main columnist for the All Together NOW! newspaper, which he encouraged me to set up in 2005.

"Information is vital for anyone affected by disability," was his mantra.

"It's all well and good creating new opportunities for disabled people, but, if they don't know about what's out there to help them, then it's all a bit of a waste of time and energy."

"All Together NOW! and I Can Do That! are the keys that open a thousand doors."

That was nice of him to say. But I'm certain that Sir Bert has personally opened millions of doors himself for disabled people - for those living with disabilities now, and for those to come.

Thanks, Bert, for everything - you will be deeply missed.

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Sir Bert Massie - received his knighthood in 2007
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 19, 2017
Words:597
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