General election debate too quiet on disability issues

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Disabled people have taken to the streets in protest in recent years, but campaigners argue the general election campaign still isn't giving their issues enough prominence

Delia Henry argues the concerns of 1 million Scots living with a disability or long-term health condition should be more prominent in the election

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24th May 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS), a consortium of six major Scottish charities, believes the general election on 8th June must give greater weight to the issues that affect disabled people. For them, the election could have far-reaching implications, affecting rights and services that they depend on more than most.

Disability is more common than many people suppose.

Around one million people in Scotland have a disability or long-term health condition that significantly impacts on their capacity to live independently. That’s as many as one in five people in Scotland today. And almost half of people in poverty are disabled, or live in a household with a disabled person, while the extra costs of living with disability estimated to average £550 a month.

Delia Henry

Delia Henry

Because several key areas remain reserved to Westminster, Scottish MPs can play an important role in ensuring a more level playing field.

On Brexit, for example, we have concerns about legislation which may derive from EU directives that have major implications for disabled people. Take the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which prohibits discrimination on various grounds including disability. This may not apply post-Brexit. Research commissioned by DAS last year showed that already lots of disabled people do not believe they are treated equally in many aspects of everyday life.

And despite some aspects of social security and employment, for instance, being devolved – or in the process of being devolved – to the Scottish Parliament, key issues such as the Access to Work scheme and Universal Credit are still reserved to Westminster.

So, it is vital that disabled people have a chance to make their views heard, to voice their concerns and engage with candidates from political parties.

All voters have the right to vote independently and in secret however this is often not the case for some people with disabilities. People with a visual impairment can require a large print ballot paper or tactile voting device to enable them to identify the different candidates’ names and cast their vote independently. Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that polling stations in their area have a supply of accessible ballot papers, make polling station staff aware of the needs of blind and partially sighted voters and train staff in guiding so that voters can physically get around the polling station. Reasonable adjustments must also be made to all polling stations so that they are accessible to all voters, such as low level polling booths, disabled parking and ramp access.

DAS aims to support engagement by a broad range of people and encourage positive change for disabled people, providing a voice that carries the weight of respected third-sector organisations. Founded in 1998, DAS is an alliance of Scotland’s major disability organisations. Together our experience, expertise and interests cover physical disability, sensory impairment, learning disability, communication support needs and mental health.

The charities that comprise DAS are Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, Capability Scotland, Enable Scotland, RNIB Scotland, SAMH and Sense Scotland.

Delia Henry is director of Action on Hearing Loss Scotland and chair of Disability Agenda Scotland

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