What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I grew up with an interest in current affairs and my involvement in politics and the Labour Party grew after the 1983 elections. I realised that I did not just want to stand on the side-lines and complain, but that I wanted to actively support my party. Initially, I became involved in the political administration side of things, like running elections and becoming the secretary of the branch.
As a disabled person did you experience particular barriers or challenges and if so, how did you overcome them?
The biggest barrier for me was having faith in my ability to become an MP. If I had been left to my own devices, I would not have considered standing for an election. I was invited to stand for the 1997 elections for a constituency that was 40 miles away, partly because of the all-women shortlist that had been introduced but also because I had built up a good reputation and national profile due to my activities within the teaching profession. Despite this, I still needed encouragement from colleagues before considering running for an MP.
Who or what was most helpful to you in overcoming these challenges?
I received a lot of encouragement and support from my own political party. The all-women shortlist was very important as it meant that they actively looked for talented women who were making a difference in their communities. I realised once I had been elected that people’s perceptions were based on my knowledge, expertise and past experiences. People were not concerned that I was in a wheelchair as they knew that this did not affect my performance or abilities.
What top tips would you give to other disabled people thinking of standing in elections?
Just go for it! Be active in your local community or political party. Do not doubt your abilities and worry about people’s perceptions. If you can show that you have the right qualities to be a good MP, people will support and encourage you.
The environment, especially in the Chamber of the House, is a challenging one, but that’s not stopped people, with a range of impairments, from being very successful in Parliament.