Decorated World War II veteran and British pilot Sir Leonard Cheshire, devoted his post-war life to establishing housing and support services for disabled persons world-wide.
Sir Leonard Cheshire is remembered for two things: first, his military record during World War II; and second, his continuing living legacy of services for disabled people. The second is as much a philosophy as bricks and mortar.
Cheshire was an RAF Group Captain during the Battle of Britain, emerging as one of the most decorated pilots of the war. In 1945, he was an official observer on the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
In 1948, in response to a need for housing for physically disabled adults, including a close friend, Cheshire opened the first Cheshire Home in England. In fact, this was Leonard Cheshire's own home. Shortly after, a second home was opened. Then a third, a fourth; and today, more than 240 in fifteen countries.
The first overseas Cheshire Home was established in Bombay in 1955. The homes are now found in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East. as well as in Moscow and Beijing.
Each Cheshire Home or service project is locally controlled, designed to meet local needs, and
supported by local contributors. Some, but not all, receive some government support.
Enabling exercise of the right of disabled people to choose how to live their daily lives is the philosophic cornerstone linking these projects and services to Cheshire's visions.
Among social services organizations, Cheshire Homes was the first support group to begin providing home care services to enable disabled people to live at home, rather than in institutional settings. From this beginning in 1972, the concepts of "independent living" and self-directed care have evolved to become first-choice options for many disabled adults, including those who were born disabled and spent their childhood in institutions.
Cheshire Homes also initiated provision of attendant services for disabled persons in the workplace and as a result, opening opportunities for many to pursue education and career goals.
Self-reliance and the realization of one's potential are central to its mission. While Cheshire Homes, as an organization, may perhaps be seen as modest relative to the number of disabled people in the world, estimated at 500 million, the impact of its message, that of Leonard Cheshire, has profoundly affected social and health policy in many countries.
Sir Leonard Cheshire died in 1992. One of his most memorable public interviews took place in Berlin, the night the Berlin Wall came down. Overcoming barriers was a dynamic in his life. That wall, perhaps to him, was as much a chapter in the Second World War as the Nagasaki event and victory in the Battle of Britain. Perhaps seen from his perspective, the Wall was a symbol of a circumstance that prevented independence and opportunity.