Disability and the Liberal Democrats

Recently, a Party member campaigning to be elected as the local Liberal Democrat candidate invited  me to attend a coffee morning to meet him. Certainly, I said. I must check first though; I assume that the premises are wheelchair accessible? They were not. This is unacceptable.

Frankly, I am completely fed up. Over and over again, I find people campaigning for justice for survivors of sexual assault, the LGBT community, immigrants, and so on, but they do not consider disabled people. Nearly half of disabled people feel excluded from society, and one of the direct causes of this is architectural barriers. This situation is unacceptable and cannot continue.

Then, last Monday evening I attended hustings to support a candidate, and I was pleased to do so. With the Liberal democrats, I expected that full accessibility would be in place, as a matter of course. This is why in fact I joined the Liberal Democrats; for the emphasis that the Party places on liberty and on eradicating ignorance and conformity. Those are Liberal Democrat values, after all.

I was extremely disappointed, therefore, to find that there was a huge step and it was impossible for me to access the Church hall. Other members came out, and, whilst they imagined they were being kind, I was astonished and insulted at their ignorance. Members offered to lift me over the step. No; this is impossible. Not only do I have no desire to make a spectacle of myself, but it is humiliating, removes independence, and it is unlawful, under the Equality Act 2010, that access is not in place to start with. I also have no desire for other members to hurt themselves as a result of the organisers’ negligence.

This has to be said, and this situation needs to end, urgently.

I insisted that an accessible entrance was cleared and admit to being pleased that my favoured candidate won.

Let me state this very clearly: I am a former lawyer, I run my own business, and I have a spinal cord injury. I am an active member of society and no one should consent to being patronised, humiliated, and treated as less of a person in this day and age.

The Liberal Democrats should be leading for societal change in this area.

When the Liberal Democrats book a venue, they must book that venue so that all members can attend. Organisers check lighting and electricity; as a matter of course, they must also check accessibility. To do otherwise is prejudice and discrimination exemplified. I also note that I have concerned myself with only one feature of accessibility; there is a lot more to do.

Upskirting and cannabis legislation are all very worthy causes I’d suggest, however, that tackling the exclusion of half of society is critical.

* Alexandra Singer is a member in South Manchester and campaigns on access issues.

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  • Neil Sandison 12th Nov '18 - 11:35am

    Alexandra Singer good article. Sorry to hear of your experience absolutely agree with your comments it is the responsibility of the Local Party to risk assess the venue regarding access to ensure all members can attend and participate in a meeting or hustings .Even if the meeting was organised by a local branch ,the Local Party should have checked the venues suitability as should the independent returning officer.I would suggest we insert a section into the candidate husting section about accessability to venues as a start to a more inclusive process .

  • “”””Over and over again, I find people campaigning for justice for survivors of sexual assault, the LGBT community, immigrants, and so on, but they do not consider disabled people. “”””

    I think your expression of frustration here illustrates the corrosive effect that identity politics is having on us as a society. As more people attempt to carve out group identities and then relentlessly banner wave under them, it is only natural that different identity groups start to resent eachother (as it sounds like you might be doing). After all these different identity groups are now actively competing with eachother for their individual legislative attention, institutional reform and government resource prioritisation. It’s not pleasant to watch

  • Richard Underhill 12th Nov '18 - 12:59pm

    At a meeting in Maidstone a presidential candidate said to me that there would be change if she was elected, which she was. Therefore try asking her.

  • Alexandra Singer 12th Nov '18 - 1:02pm

    James Pugh, as a reader, you are of course free to interpret my article in any whatsoever, and to criticise what you term “Identity politics.”You are interpreting, however, from your own perspective. I am often bemused by reactions from historically privileged individuals, especially Caucasian males, who may be projecting their own resentment. I do not think that campaigning for the rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups is having a “corrosive effect” on society. In fact, it sounds rather that you are criticising the work of these groups – as you say they “relentlessly banner wave”. I do not, I assure you, resent these groups: I actively support them. The thing about disability is that it can strike any person, at any time. There are disabled immigrants, and so on. People are not in boxes. What I resent, is hypocrisy from people who insist they are campaigning for social justice, but do not concern themselves with one that is staring them in the face on a daily basis.

  • Agree entirely with your sentiments, It is both surprising and frustrating to experience how the vast majority of public spaces do not have any provision for wheelchair users. Much more needs to be done from education to making sure that businesses and organisations have adequate access. The sad thing is that many do not, citing cost reasons, but the reality is that the cost of doing so is generally very low, such as rearranging furniture, having portable ramps and training staff to use them (and that’s not even taking into account of the social, health, and economic benefits of allowing wheelchair users to access public places) Whether or not these improvements are funded by business owners and organisations themselves, or by grants from the government, this should be the minimum requirement in the UK.

  • David Warren 12th Nov '18 - 1:59pm

    Good article Alexandra.

    Disability affects a lot of people.

    The DDA was an important step in recognising this but as I found out during my time as a trade union representative employers routinely dismiss conditions when it suits them.

    Particularly when those conditions are not immediately visible.

    I have suffered with IBS for the last 5 years.

    Is it a disability?

    As far as I am concerned it is!

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Nov '18 - 2:02pm

    You are absolutely right to be indignant Alexandra and James should not be suggesting you resent other minority groups. Of course we expect others who experience prejudice in our society to be aware of that experienced by different minority groups and to campaign for their rights also.
    The physical isolation of disabled people doesn’t seem to be widely understood and we also meet prejudice from people on sight because of that disability. Alexandra was just asking for equal recognition with other minority groups.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Nov '18 - 2:09pm


    Yours is one of the most specific and most important pieces here.

    My partner and I pulled out of a venue some years ago, as artistic directors,which , as a result of effort and enthusiasm, publicity and promotion, we had the opportunity to revive for theatre usage for the first time in years. The venue was not accessible for people with any significant disabilities, we asked the management , the proprietors, to install it as needed, and we did the research. They would not as it was not yet a requirement. We attempted to get public funding to do it but could not receive it as we did not hold the lease or have the ownership. We pulled out. We and the locality lost an opportunity but we did believe it a matter of principle.

    The incidents you illustrate are examples that show, not principles lacking , or not, but practicalities not considered due to priorities not correct. This party is heading nowhere if it continues this trajectory. A candidate who makes his LGBT status or identity, as with gender ethnicity or anything, is not being aware of the one thing we have that no party has, real ability to unite people. We are united on Brexit but the policy is too much for some and divides us from moderates who are not sure or who are invariably openminded but Brexit oriented.

    The cause you speak to is the very cause we must as a party or we are gong to find our left and right wings better absorbed into the other parties. It is to bring the individual concerns that many share, into the mainstream, making people aware of the most glaring obvious thing, that are based on physical isolation is more important than the big issues that divide, because the small ones , are bigger often, and the solutions do unite.

  • Sean Hyland 12th Nov '18 - 3:10pm

    Well said Alexandra. i didn’t read your comments as being focused on identity politics or note any resentment of other campaigning groups. Just read a heartfelt plea for a little thought in the everyday processes of politics and life. You are right that it should be automatic to think of such things as access and facilities when organising events, meetings etc of any kind . Yes we accept that some venues cannot be changed – so don’t use them if possible for example.

    in terms of identity politics and banner waving lets not forget that amongst the LGBT+, immigrant community etc there are also likely to be significant numbers who have a range of disabilities!

  • Aspects of this “conversation” have become a little too divisive for my taste. I think we all want to see improved access and greater awareness of disability issues, but criticising James Pugh for being white and male says seems counter productive given that more than 40% of the population have those particular characteristics and I imagine we would like some of them to vote for us at the next election.
    As for “historically priviledged individuals”, an individual can belong to a group who were historically priviledged, but I’m not sure he can be historically priviledged himself. Or you could argue that one with all the historically priviledged Caucasian males sleeping rough in Southampton last night.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Nov '18 - 8:24pm

    I understand where you come from. I never go into a restaurant without it being accessible. I don’t like to struggle with a natural need. The roads are awful, as with pavements. A pothole more than 2 inches is painful. It is time that we considered disabled people.
    It amazes me when working is suggested, firstly the journey has to be possible.

  • Alexandra Singer 12th Nov '18 - 8:29pm

    I believe you missed my point Chris Cory. I was not criticising a particular individual; I was criticising the resentment that exists from yes, traditionally privileged groups at the successful campaigning of minorities for their rights. And it does exist. Your comment really does go off at a tangent.

  • Mark Blackburn 12th Nov '18 - 8:44pm

    Er. anyone for intersectionalism? Why would you assume that someone concerned with accessibility would not be concerned with LGBT+ rights or race discrimination James Pugh and others? ‘Identity politics’ seems to be a convenient expression to throw at anyone questioning the traditional patriarchal status quo. As for its “corrosive effect on society” – well, perhaps quite not so corrosive as increasing hate crime, cuts to essential services and iniquitous economic policy.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Nov '18 - 9:30pm

    Mark Blackburn, do you identify as a disabled person?

  • Helen Dudden 13th Nov '18 - 7:59am

    Alexandra. The Ruderman Family Foundation on Twitter, are working world wide to improve disability. I tweet on the problems I’ve faced over the years. From Africa to India, America to the UK. A massive push for education, and the right to have a decent life for all disabled people.

  • Sue Sutherland 13th Nov '18 - 12:52pm

    I have to say that Alexandra has proved her point. Two blokes have criticised her in this thread for pointing out what seems to me to be obvious, that disabled people need to fight for justice. One accuses her of resentment and when she defends herself the other rushes to the defence of her accuser. The fact they are both men and proudly display that they are Lib Dem members only re enforces what she is saying. I am glad that other comments have supported her but I am outraged that two Lib Dem men should think it’s perfectly OK to display the kind of prejudice they have.

  • I do not have a disability, so my observations come from working with a number of people with disabilities over many years. Access to public transport (buses and trains) has improved, not so much to buildings as Alexandra identifies. However, it seems to me that a big obstacle to independence is lack of employment opportunities. In my (indirect) experience, people with disabilities are quite clearly discriminated against when it comes to employment. Apart from physical barriers, the most common reason given for stopping access to employment is “health and safety concerns”. The government’s mantra that changes to benefits will encourage work is all very well if there is a level playing field to achieving this. There isn’t! I’m not sure why this is not publicised more. My other observation is that whilst MPs are slowly becoming more representative of the population as a whole, this is not the case as far as people with disabilities is concerned. My (possibly inadequate) assessment from websites is that only 5 out of 650 MPs identify as disabled – 2 Con, 1 Lab, I Lib Dem and 1 Ind. If that is out of date, apologies

  • Helen Dudden 13th Nov '18 - 7:13pm

    Public transport is often overcrowded and not sympathetic to disability. How many wheelchair spaces on a bus? even disabled seating is no longer. Pavements and roads in a dangerous state to a Power Chair, mine has a two inch anti tip. That means exactly that, two inch allowance.
    If you really want to get into the true feelings of disability, then its time to spend a week in a wheelchair. That’s going to work, accessing disabled toilets, difficult in London.
    I suggest that’s what you should do if you wish a true picture. Remembering walking is difficult so, once in the chair you stay there. Then write comments. Very recently, a disabled athlete crawled across an airport, his wheelchair lost. All he could do was crawl. They now have self propelled at the airport. All wheelchair users have different capabilities but to simplify, I suggest this option.

  • marcstevens 13th Nov '18 - 9:10pm

    Do you think we can refrain from attacking and stereotyping people on the basis of their gender and race on this site? As a liberal democrat voter I find it unacceptable and offensive.

    I think all parties could do more when it comes to the accessibility of venues for meetings. Sometimes disability is not always visible and is very wide-ranging.

    As someone with crohns disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, I used to get reprimanded for using disabled toilets despite having a radar key. Crohns Colitis UK ran a very good campaign on this and now many supermarkets display ‘not all disabilities are visible’ signs or words to that effect. I now feel much more comfortable about using these facilities. It goes to show how successful these campaigns can be in changing people’s attitudes.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Nov '18 - 6:43am

    Marcstevens. Your disability is of course most unpleasant. Use your key that’s what Radar keys are for.
    It was reported in a newspaper how a young man of 30 needed a toilet urgently. He looked fit and healthy, he has a colostomy bag. He had been refused, not believed. Bravely he highlighted the issue. You should have not have to prove disability, nor should being a female, making difficult comments be a problem.
    Disability and negative attitudes remain, that’s a proven fact.

  • Matt Wardman 14th Nov '18 - 10:39am

    Any member of the public can get a radar key off the internet for about £1.

    I have one for when there is an anti-cycling barrier next to a wheelchair gate on paths where there is a right to cycle.

  • Matt Wardman 14th Nov '18 - 11:20am

    Back exactly on topic.

    @Richard C:
    >My other observation is that whilst MPs are slowly becoming more representative of the population as a whole, this is not the case as far as people with disabilities is concerned. My (possibly inadequate) assessment from websites is that only 5 out of 650 MPs identify as disabled – 2 Con, 1 Lab, I Lib Dem and 1 Ind. If that is out of date, apologies

    The “only 1% of MPs are disabled” (ie 6 or 7 MPs) is a fictionand was a fiction when it was written, which for some reason our media has chosen to swallow. The first place I saw it was on a piece by Alice Kirby in the Guardian. The trick is that the widest possible definition for the population is used (=20%->24%), but that the vast majority of disabled MPs are treated as not being disabled for the purposes of the claim and are rubbed out; even Theresa May does not seem to make the list. That then gives an apparent basis for particular demands.

    About 10 minutes of research on the Commons website reveals scores of disabled MPs. eg there are a number of diabetic MPs on the diabetes APPG, plenty on other issue-groups, a number who are paraplegic, several who are wheelchair users and so on.

    When I fact-checked it I found about getting on for 10% who had identified themselves as disabled without looking very hard at all.

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Nov '18 - 7:35pm

    @ Matt Wardman,
    Quite so.

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