The National Information Forum was conceived in 1980 and formalised in 1981, the International Year of Disabled People. Ann Darnbrough, co-author of the Directory for Disabled People, pointed out to the organisers of the Year that their agenda failed to cover the vital subject of the information needs of disabled people. Ann was invited to form an IYDP Information Committee, and gathered around her a small team of dedicated volunteers. The membership was made up of around 70 organisations and individuals involved in the provision of information to disabled people. For some years, the Forum operated on a purely voluntary basis. Charitable status was granted in 1985. Our stated objective was to “advance the education and promote the relief of disabled and handicapped persons in particular by the provision of information and advice.”

In 1999 it was decided to extend our remit to cover not only disabled people but also anyone else disadvantaged in gaining access to information. Our Constitution was amended accordingly in December of that year, with the approval of the Charity Commissioners. We became a company limited by guarantee on 17 July 2003, but without any changes of personnel or organisation.

Our core beliefs were set out as follows: We regard access to information as a basic civil right. Lack of access to information and of support to help people understand it contribute substantially to social exclusion. We draw attention to the fact that socially excluded people frequently suffer disadvantage not because there are no services to help them, but rather because they do not know what help is available or how to take advantage of it. They remain unaware of and do not take-up benefits, services and opportunities that could dramatically improve the quality of their lives. And this is not because there is a lack of information, but rather because it does not get through to them. Our experience is that vulnerable groups include:

  • those who through social disadvantage and who live in conditions of poverty do not actively seek information and are not reached by traditional methods of information provision nor by electronic systems;

  • those who have been newly diagnosed with a disabling condition or have a disabled child, and who have no previous experience of disability;

  • those whose language, culture and circumstances exclude them from many mainstream sources of information, especially refugees and asylum seekers;

  • people with learning disabilities who find conventional information difficult to understand;

  • some older people who may have difficulty in keeping up with rapid technological change;

  • those in need of reliable health information;

  • blind people who do not receive information in accessible formats;

  • young people who have been in care or custody, many of whom have disabilities of mind or body.

One part of our mission, therefore, is to guide everyone who can play a part in bridging the information gap as to what needs to be done. But no less important and another key aim is for the Forum itself to identify the information needs of vulnerable groups and provide them with signpost guidance.

Publications (all now out of print) included a wide range of guides for disabled people, asylum seekers and refugees and children leaving care; a guide ‘Where to Find Information’, distributed through libraries; a magazine, ‘Innovations in Information’ and a biography of the late Lord Morris of Manchester.