Disability is nothing to hide, so let’s not act like it is

Henry and Natasha campaignAs a candidate for my home town in May’s local elections, I’ve helped residents fight for repairs to roads, I’ve lobbied for more action on dog mess and I’ve campaigned to prevent closures to residential homes.

As a blind candidate for my home town in May’s local elections, I’ve done all this while helping changing a few attitudes along the way. I spoke here about a mother who was delighted to see someone like her visually impaired daughter standing for election but a lot more has happened too – I’ve even received messages from young disabled people saying that me standing is a confidence boost for them.

I’m sure many readers will agree with me that standing for election is a mix of emotions – there are ups and there are downs.

But after the diversity debate, there’s a particular part of being a blind candidate that needs to be tackled head on – and so I turn to Lib Dem Voice.

I use a white cane and after spending the majority of my child and teenage years unable to leave the house alone, I’m pretty proud that I can now campaign without any sighted help. There are sometimes hiccups, but nothing that can’t be solved.

But after being told by a senior activist that I should crop my cane from campaign photos or somehow hide it, I was horrified. I stumbled over my response and changed the subject. I’ve since explained to them that disability is nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of – even under the guise of fighting for votes.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time it’s happened and I know it’ll happen again.

So after seeing another visually impaired member at York conference, I want them to know that they can stand for election if they want to – but more importantly, I want them to know that they can do it without worrying about the attitudes others have faced.

I call on you, readers of Lib Dem Voice, to remember this article and if you ever consider telling a disabled candidate to hide who they are, please don’t. And if you ever hear someone else saying something similar to what I’ve been told, please call it out.



* Henry Foulds is a member and activist in Amber Valley, Derbyshire. He is standing in May’s local elections.

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  • Joshua Dixon 23rd Mar '16 - 9:45am

    Great post, Henry! I hope the activist in question who told you to hide your cane now realises how wrong he was. Keep on being you 😀

  • Andrew Martin 23rd Mar '16 - 9:46am

    Well done for sharing your story Henry, and I hope this can help to change the culture in both our party and wider society.

  • You are an inspiration, keep on the good work of defending our liberal principles and serving the community!

  • Good luck, Henry. The senior activist you quote should be thoroughly ashamed.

    You won’t be the first blind politician to succeed. Professor Henry Fawcett, an economist and friend of Darwin, was Liberal MP for Brighton in the 1860’s and an early campaigner for women’s suffrage (his wife was Millicent Garrett Fawcett).

    The partially sighted Robert Lowe was Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, and sadly Sir Edward Grey (Asquith’s Foreign Secretary) lost his sight. More recently, David Blunkett was leader of Sheffield Council and a Cabinet Minister.

    On a personal level I had a relative who was blinded in WW2 and went on to Cambridge.

    So, remember the words of Francis Urquhart in House of Cards – “Put a bit of stick about”.

  • Genuinely disgusted at the senior activist. I hope they read this, apologise and change their appalling mindset.

    I was going to say you’re inspirational, but the feedback you’ve been getting has already proved it!

    Well done, go smash em!

  • suzanne fletcher 23rd Mar '16 - 2:06pm

    sorry about the hassle you have had, but now you have been brave enough to write this, you have a LOT of people on your side, no matter what anyone else says – we are the best, and we are right beside you !
    I recall going on a training course in Newcastle and going with a lad who was blind and had a cane. I thought the idea was that I was “looking after” him. He guided me on the right way out of the bus station, and the way across some complex crossings. I am sure you will be guiding people locally in more ways than one. good luck in your campaign.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '16 - 2:22pm

    I agree – disability is nothing to hide and I think it is great that you have got yourself involved in politics.

    Best of luck in your campaign

  • Mark Blackburn 23rd Mar '16 - 2:51pm

    I think there’s a wider issue here and it goes to the heart of who we are, or should be. Unfortunately there’s a culture of ‘senior activist’ behaviour still in the party which suggests we should appear less LGBT+/BAME/disabled/nonconformist than we really are, supposedly to be more acceptable to the electorate. I’m proud to be the rainbow party that we are, and that’s how I want people to know us.

  • Julia Cambridge 23rd Mar '16 - 5:47pm

    Few people surely can have read Henry’s post and not be gobsmacked. This, from a Liberal party who pride themselves on championing mental health issues, diversity and disability rights. I say ‘from a Liberal party’ however let’s look at this individual who thinks his words to Henry are acceptable. I challenge you to respond and justify your up to date master campaigning advice. If you actually believe candidates should hide any outward signs of disability come and say it. I am in the same region as Henry and have worked alongside him. He masterfully navigated me around loads of polling stations on election day 2015. I didn’t have a clue, but he did and I can’t thank him enough. It must take a lot of courage for someone to write so publically about their treatment within the Liberal Democrats. So back to my challenge. Roll up and justify your fabulous campaigning advice we are all ears, except members with impaired hearing who should presumably be hiding that eh? …oh hang on now why didn’t I understand I would have increased the vote by being a man. Genius…..I’m off to fix it…

  • Lorraine Johnson 23rd Mar '16 - 8:09pm

    Thought it was incredibly brave if you to go out in the snow campaigning in Oldham Henry, especially as I was wimping out in the offce addressing envelopes for fear of slipping & hurtng my back. I remember being worried that people would be put off by my walking stick but someone actually commented that’s it’s got a rather attractive pattern which is quite stylish 😉 Don’t let anyone try to tell you t be anything other than you are. You deserve the utmost respect for what you have achieved in-spite of the challenges you’ve had to overcome.

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Mar '16 - 8:13pm

    You have every reason to feel proud of yourself, Henry. You are an inspiration.

    When the days facing election etc. have more emotional down’s than ups, just remember the positive effect your courage has already had on people and how much more you have to give.

  • Well said, Henry! Thanks to everyone for the really positive comments and I am sure if you had been with Henry when this had been said to him, you would have challenged it, politely but firmly. Even (or especially) senior activists need to understand that daft statements like that are not acceptable. And good luck in your campaign!

  • Martin Land 24th Mar '16 - 7:20am

    I don’t know if its still available but I had a blind candidate a few years ago and we applied for and received financial support to help him with additional expenses like taxis to and from meetings and hustings. The Electoral Commission were very supportive throughout.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '16 - 8:36am

    Ability and disability are mixed in the same person. I was conscious of that in the 1970s when two of my staff had at work had disabilities, one had MD, the other had MS.
    I have just watched a DVD about a post-graduate who fell over. The doctors diagnosed a rare condition and told him he had two years to live. In his case both the ability and the disability are extreme. Have a box of tissues ready, it is also a love story. In a true story the viewer starts by knowing that the 2-yera life expectation was exceeded. The theory of everything was something that Albert Einstein did not achieve. Certificate 12.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '16 - 8:46am

    One can be suddenly aware of a limitation. Surrounded by people who only spoke Finnish I needed to get to the airport on a Sunday morning after an LI meeting, failing which my ticket to the UK would be valueless. Suddenly I saw a black face among all the white ones and thought that he might be a West African student. He was. he spoke English. He directed me to the airport, where I caught the plane, just in time. Since then mobile ‘phones have been invented and become widespread. Finland has joined the EU, voting Yes in a referendum, affected by their proximity to Russia and history, such as losing their northern coastline.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Mar '16 - 8:54am

    I have also canvassed with Sal Brinton in Maidstone during the 2015 general election. I kicked away some dry dog mess on the pavement which she did not want on her tyres. He abilities on the task exceeded those of most people who do not have her disability.

  • SUSAN Sutherland 24th Mar '16 - 2:37pm

    You’re amazing Henry. Just be yourself because that’s the only way to survive in politics. I’m so excited that most people in the party seem to be truly taking diversity seriously so remember we are all behind you and ignore any ridiculous remarks by people who think they know best, however senior they are.

  • Richard Boyd OBE DL 24th Mar '16 - 5:48pm

    Good to read of your commitment. In 1997 my wife, Paula, was elected as a county councillor, on Essex CC, for Rochford North. She was a company director, and a qualified book keeper. She served as a member, and as a committee chairman, over her 4 year term. She did not consider herself “disabled”, rather that she had some access issues that others needed to assist her with. One Conservative Councillor would deliberately sit in the seat reserved for her, for her ease of access, with the loud comment ” if you can’t do the job like the rest of us, then you shouldn’t be here”. No other councillor accepted that view and he was regularly admonished for his comments. Paula, would simply ignore him and run her wheels across his feet as the traversed his blocking of her path. Paul was a bi-lateral amputee having lost her legs, below the knee, at 17 and 21 years of age.

    She was totally independent, and travelled by air, road, and rail overcoming all the difficulties that were common at that time. So, just as she ignored ignorant comments and actions, so should you – and you will be as successful as she was.

  • David Buxton 24th Mar '16 - 7:40pm

    Very well said, Henry! Senior activist should attend diversity / disability training, we have to support to each other, standing / speaking up!
    Good to meet you at the conference

  • Paul Holmes 24th Mar '16 - 9:44pm

    I have only spoken to Henry once and that consisted of shaking hands and saying hello when he was introduced to me at a recent County meeting which then immediately resumed preventing further conversation.But he is an inspiration and not just because he overcomes obstacles and gets out to campaign for himself. I know for example that last year he traveled to Hinckley to help canvass in a Council by election that was gained from Labour and Lorraine has already told how Henry went to canvass in the Oldham By election. He has made good interventions in other ways too, changing for example one of the questions in the Derbyshire Council Candidates approval form to make it more Disability appropriate.

    There are other excellent role models in our Region too. Ed Lowe for example who despite Cerebral Palsy has done a great deal of telephone canvassing over the last 3 years and during the General Election spent several days working with me in the Bosworth Campaign Office. Then too there is the terrific Barbara Pearce who I first gave up 4 days holiday to go and campaign for in the Richmond by election in 1989 when her disability was restricted to one arm. Today Barbara is as full as ever of energy and enthusiasm as a Regional Executive member and Chair of Nottingham Liberal Democrats.

    Activists of all ages will sometimes say inappropriate things for what they think are the best of reasons, the point is to challenge and change it as Henry did. Years ago a ‘senior activist’ told me that as an atheist I should pretend to be religious in order to gain certain votes and my response was that I would rather lose an election than lie about my beliefs or pretend to be something I was not.

    Keep up the good work Henry.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Mar '16 - 12:10am

    Excellent comments .As a member in Nottingham, I have met Henry , indeed we shared a bus together after the leadership hustings , and got off together and chatted a while .A terrific asset for our party .
    As indeed is our excellent Barbara Pearce also mentioned.Not only a delightful person and dynamic activist , an unsung heroine in the party’s history nationally .She , as parliamentary candidate in the Richmond , Yorkshire by election, that William Hague won , beat the continuing SDP , and put in a respectable showing for the new liberal Democrat party , poentially seeing off the Owenites and establishing us !

  • In Kingston Mary Heathcote OBE, herself registered blind, served as a very active Lib Dem councillor and disability campaigner. She was an excellent Mayor of the Royal Borough and is a terrific role model. You can see her here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzOhTztRT8s

  • @ Lorenzo Richmond, N. Yorks.

    I suggest you re-check that result.

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