What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I was born with a disability that has left my joints very weak and prone to early arthritis and my skin very easily damaged, but I have always been determined not to let this stop me. I came across countless disabled people who have outstanding skills and experiences to contribute to their local communities, but struggled to participate due to their disability. As a great believer in leading by example, I decided to stand for election in 2006.
What do you enjoy about being a councillor?
I enjoy making a difference. My personal experiences have driven my passion for championing the rights of disadvantaged people. My working life has mainly involved building communities, setting up community projects and working as a mental health advocate in the community.
Disabled people have a unique insight into a lot of issues that people face, ranging from housing issues to health care, fuel poverty and employment to name a few. I also feel that people with disabilities are particularly empathic to the problems that people face daily.
As a disabled person did you experience particular barriers or challenges and if so, how did you overcome them?
Door-knocking is an issue, so we have a roving surgery where we put flyers out the week before to say we will be in a particular road so if folk need to see us in their road, they can.
Who or what was most helpful to you in overcoming these challenges?
My own self-determination and my supportive partner have been the most important things in helping me get through. Also, being able to drive has helped because I can’t walk very well so it would be very hard to operate without my car. I will not say it’s easy, but most things in life that are worthwhile are not easy for anyone.
I have spoken to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, about getting a law passed to make it a legal requirement for reasonable adjustments to be made to help a disabled candidate with their campaigning, without it having to come out of electoral funds. I am also working hard to try to stop proposed cuts being made that directly affect disabled people, such as the removal of mobility allowance for disabled people in care homes, which I believe effectively makes them prisoners in their own homes.
What top tips would you give to other disabled people thinking of standing in elections?
Do it! We can’t say we are not represented if we don’t get involved. Being a councillor allows you to genuinely help people and make a difference.