Born in Hornsey, London in 1909, Judy (nee Caroline Joyce Manning) became a pioneering campaigner for children with learning disabilities and founder of The National Association of Parents of Backward Children, now known as Mencap. She was also the long-time editor of Parents’ Voice, a magazine that rallied for positive action and help for the parents of learning-disabled children.
Judy studied Economics and Political Science at Ruskin, where she met John Fryd. They were active members of the Labour Party throughout their lives. Married in 1936, they had four children: Felicity, Patricia, Peter and Linda. Felicity, their eldest, had a learning disability; they sought help but were unsuccessful, meeting constant obstacles.
After only half a day at a mainstream primary school Felicity was rejected for being too disruptive. At another school she was deemed “not suitable” and her immediate removal was requested. Felicity was returned to her family who were left to cope alone with her autism and challenging behaviour (then described as juvenile schizophrenia). The lack of understanding from society and the professionals who were supposed to support her angered Judy. This would become the driving force behind her ground-breaking work.
Her initial step, in 1946, was to respond to a letter in Nursery World magazine which asked if there were other parents struggling to cope with a learning-disabled child at home. Judy suggested that she and other parents of such children should band together in an effort to receive some kind of recognition of and support for their plight. Within a month more than 1,000 parents, largely mothers, had joined forces.
Although modest in private, Judy became a dynamic campaigner for children and adults with learning disabilities and altered the public’s perception of learning disability. She sowed the seeds of Mencap, now the largest disability organisation in the country, and led a campaign which resulted in the 1971 Education (Handicapped Children) Act, overturning the previous thinking that children with a learning disability were ineducable.
Judy was appointed MBE in 1967 and CBE in 1996. She died at the age of 90 in 2000.