What inspired you to get involved in politics?
My family and friends were involved in politics and they loved to debate issues that inspired me to think about their views and ideas. At first, as a young Deaf person, I didn’t think it was possible to take part in mainstream politics, until I saw Christine Reeves speaking in BSL at the Liberal/SDP conference and I heard about Richard Williams becoming a parish councillor in Wales. It made me realise I wanted to be more involved in politics. One day I was introduced to Simon Hughes who invited me to a meeting at the House of Commons. From that meeting, I was encouraged to start my own political involvement.
As a disabled person did you experience particular barriers or challenges and if so, how did you overcome them?
I was born profoundly Deaf and brought up in a strict oralist deaf boarding school. I had huge difficulty managing my own communication skills with family members and strangers until I learnt BSL at college in my late teens. I found my confidence in communicating with people using BSL interpreters and that helped me accept who I am. My own determination, attitude and ability certainly enabled me to build more opportunities by breaking through barriers, proving I can do as well as anyone else. I wanted people to look at my abilities, skills, experience and qualifications, not my deafness and speech impairment.
Who or what was most helpful to you in overcoming these challenges?
With BSL interpreters, it didn’t matter that I was Deaf and unable to use speech – I was able to meet people, I could debate, share ideas, campaign and lobby. People like Christine Reeves and Richard Williams inspired me, and then when I met Simon Hughes he challenged me to start doing something – join a political party, get involved locally. I was lucky to have a few hearing friends from my local church who were able to “interpret” for me when I met local people at Simon Hughes’ surgeries and local ward meetings. They gave free service and support.
What top tips would you give to other disabled people thinking of standing in elections?
Focus on your own political, campaigning, lobbying and debating skills, ability and experience, not your disability. Recognise your own potential as this will get you support from voters, supporters, friends and strangers – have a real interest in the local community issues, local people’s concerns and so on. It’s not about being a career politician, it is about being a real community campaigner and representing local people.
Don’t be afraid of what people see or think of you – try and rise above your disability, keep your chin up and do what you can during the election. Be inspired by what people like the late Lord Ashley of Stoke, Anne Begg and David Blunkett did. I have lost many times over the years, but I don’t give up! At the end of the day people will recognise what you have tried to achieve and admire you for the successes you have achieved.