Scheme brings MPs face-to-face with disabled constituents


More than 100 disabled people have raised campaigning issues around disability rights and equality in face-to-face meetings with their local MP, thanks to a scheme that aims to build relationships between politicians and their disabled constituents.

Disabled people who took part in this year’s MP Disability Dialogue raised concerns such as cuts to disability benefits and services, workplace discrimination, the importance of the Access to Work scheme, disability hate crime, and the portability of social care.

One of the disabled people who met with their local MP – with support from the scheme – was Emma Bishop, a member of the Devon Learning Disability Parliament.

She told a parliamentary reception this week how she talked with her MP about the need for more Changing Places toilets – fully accessible toilet and changing facilities – in east Devon.

Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, supported her campaign, suggested names of organisations she could approach, and wrote letters backing her campaign.

Other MPs wrote letters or asked questions of ministers, pledged to contact government departments and wrote to local authorities on behalf of the disabled people who met them through the scheme.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR – which was organising the scheme for the fifth time – said the aim was for disabled people “to have a voice, to get things changed”, but also to break down MPs’ misconceptions about disabled people, as well as disabled people’s misconceptions about MPs.

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg told the reception it was useful for her as a wheelchair-user to hear about the challenges facing disabled people with different impairments, and added: “It is very important for us to realise that there are a lot of different views out there in the disabled community.”

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, told the reception: “One of the dialogue’s real strengths is that both parties get something out of the meeting.”

She added: “It’s vital that disabled people have that strong voice in the policies and decisions that affect them.”

She pointed to the £3 million in government funding announced in July to support the growth of local disabled people’s organisations, and the government’s new strategy to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs and local councillors.

Miller added: “We don’t just want more disabled people to influence policy, we also want them to participate actively in government. We want disabled people to be at the heart of the decision-making process.”

RADAR has now called for more practical support to help disabled people communicate with their MP, and for MPs to review the accessibility of their arrangements for communicating with constituents, with the help of local user-led organisations and disabled people.

RADAR is also working with the training organisation Wideaware, with support from the Office for Disability Issues, to produce a new disability equality e-learning tool for MPs and parliamentary staff.

As part of the project, Wideaware is asking disabled people to take part in a short survey about their experience of engaging with their MP.

19 October 2011

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