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Calling for a bigger voice for disabled people in politics

The word politics originally derives from the Greek word ‘politēs’, which means citizen.

The term implies that all citizens are equal constituents of a society, but as George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Orwell was of course using animals and animal society as a metaphor for human beings.

 

The representation of disabled people in politics is woefully low

And never has this principle been truer than the current representation, or rather lack of representation of disabled people in politics.

Research made public by the BBC earlier this year found that just 1.5% of Welsh councillors are known to have a disability, even though around 20% of the UK population have a disability. The lack of representation of disabled people in local politics in Wales is truly shocking.

There may of course be more disabled councillors who don’t want to declare their disability, but this is part of the problem.

 

Remove the barriers and challenge negative stereotypes

According to Disability Wales more needs to be done to remove barriers to people standing for elections to improve representation.

This includes challenging negatives, outdated stereotypes as well as ensuring democracy is accessible by making sure that buildings that hold meetings have essential accessibility features like hearing loops and ramps.

A spokesperson for Disability Wales told BBC Wales: “Disabled people are being prevented from entering public life due to negative, archaic stereotyping by members of the public.

“We are perceived as not being fit for the job due to having an impairment or health condition.

“In fact, these lived experiences bring us vital qualities needed for public life; empathy, problem solving and objectivity.”

 

Lack of representation is a national problem

We believe this lack of representation also extends to a national level, as it’s hard to believe that 20% of MP’s are disabled, reflecting the diversity of our society.

Again, if they are, not enough of them are prepared to declare it, perhaps because they feel their disability may be used against them.

This is an awful state of affairs for the UK, which prides itself on the idea of being a fair society that presents equal opportunities to everyone, no matter what their background or personal circumstances are.

 

Challenge incorrect ideas

We believe it is clear that more needs to be done to challenge negative stereotypes and remove barriers for disabled people that stop them entering politics.

But this goes beyond physical accessibility and it requires changing attitudes by challenging stereotypes and the miss-representation of disabled people that is still too common.

You know, the type of thinking that says that disabled people aren’t ‘up to the job’ of non-disabled people and aren’t productive members of society.

For example, Anita Davies, who is a councillor for Coity Higher Community Council, Bridgend, is blind.

She told BBC Wales that because of her condition people often prejudge her and doubt her ability to do her job as a councillor.

 

Promote positive role models

As we have blogged about previously, disabled heroes like Eddie Kirkwood show that these ideas are absolute nonsense.

Eddie is a role model for other disabled people and we think that politics needs more positive, disabled role models like Eddie.

Perhaps this includes more transparency, like requiring local authorities and the UK Parliament to publish the numbers of disabled politicians.

Whatever the action required, it’s time that we had a wider debate about improving the representation of disabled people in politics.

And there is of course no better place for meaningful debate than Parliament. Over to you MP’s….