What do you think about diversity in political life?
We should all be judged by what we do and how effective we are irrespective of any disability. Blind or partially sighted people do not belong to a separate group; for good or ill, we are all individuals in our own right.
How do you respond to questions about your disability?
I find that when I meet people for the first time, after greeting my guide dog, they tentatively raise the question of my blindness. I do not mind this. It is perfectly natural that people should wish to ask questions.
How important are mentors?
On standing for Sheffield City Council, Winifred Golding, who had served on the council for many years, became my mentor and provided invaluable help and support.
How do you navigate around Parliament?
With my election as an MP, Teddy, my guide dog, became the first dog allowed on the floor of the Commons’ chamber proper. Having learned by trial and error to find our way through the vast maze of corridors and staircases, we had soon mastered our regular routes sufficiently.
How do you handle meetings?
After years of experience derived from handling negotiations and participating in meetings without visual signals to guide me, I have learned to listen particularly carefully, not only to the spoken word but other signs…..an intake of breath…length of a pause.
What advice would you give to other disabled people wishing to enter political life?
Have the confidence to be yourself. Under strong television studio lights my eyes have a tendency to flicker; it is a reflect action, which cannot be remedied. Every now and then someone suggest that I wear dark glasses. This may be the image some people have of blind people but it is certainly not one I am prepared to accept. Take me as I am or leave me has always been my attitude to life and remains so today.
Any anecdotes you’d like to share?
I well remember once when Robin Day’s introduction at the start of the television programme Question Time was drowned out by the sound of Teddy the guide dog noisily lapping water from a bowl and the audience’s laughter.