I had to vote in the car park as there was no wheelchair access! – #100days100stories

Rosemary Frazer is Campaigns Manager at Scope. In the final days leading up to the General Election, she shares her story of why it’s important disabled people are able to cast their vote as easily as everyone else, as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

Woman sitting in a wheelchair, with a grey carigan and short dark hair, smiling at the cameraI’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. Friends and family tell me my interest borders on geekishness, but I grew up in Northern Ireland, where politics and politicians were a constant presence, so I suppose I could blame it on that!

I’ve always been a keen campaigner, mainly on disability issues as I am a wheelchair user. I had been supported by local politicians for various campaigns. I couldn’t wait to vote for the first time at 18. I remember going to the polling station, marking my ballot paper and folding it up before popping it in the box. I watched the election results come in late into the night (doesn’t everyone do that?). Unfortunately my favourite candidate didn’t get elected. First lesson of politics, you don’t always get to choose the winner!

What do you mean I can’t get in?

Ballot box with a hand posting a voteI moved to London in the late ’90s and in 2001 I was excited to be voting for the first time in London. I registered to vote, received my ballot paper and was all set. I got to the polling station and found that I couldn’t get into the building because it wasn’t accessible!

I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t sorted out proper access. It really did throw me! I was reminded of the time as a child I heard about the Suffragette Movement and thought ‘Why on earth would women not be allowed to vote?’ My thoughts were exactly the same about access at polling stations. ‘Why on earth would you not provide proper facilities for disabled people to vote?’

I had to vote in the car park

I kicked up quite a fuss and in the end a rather farcical situation ensued. The staff at the polling station physically carried a polling booth outside and I cast my vote in the car park. I remember feeling so angry and embarrassed as people arriving to vote were looking at me wondering what on earth was going on. I decided there and then I wouldn’t be going through that experience again!

Importance of voting and being seen to vote

Polling station signI had heard about Scope’s Polls Apart campaign to improve access to voting for disabled people and ended up getting involved with others in improving access, awareness and support in my constituency.

Access to voting hasn’t improved anything like as much as it should have done since my dreadful experience in 2001. At the 2010 General Election, Scope campaigners reported on 400 Parliamentary Constituencies and found that two-thirds (67%) of polling stations had at least one significant access barrier.

Participating and belonging

Young disabled woman votingPostal voting is a vital option for people who find it difficult to travel to their polling station. However postal ballots should not be an excuse for not providing good access and staff training. Indeed by not using accessible venues disabled people are further disadvantaged by not being able to volunteer at polling stations or counting centres.

It is really important for me to be seen to be participating in the same things that non-disabled people do. Taking part in the democratic process is a vital part of that.

My local polling station is now fully accessible with well trained staff. When I cast my vote on May 7th I will be able to do so just like everyone else. For me things have greatly improved but more work needs to be done and we need to keep pushing for better access and support.

I will still be staying up half the night to watch the results come in so perhaps I really am a geek!

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign, and find out more about the lives of disabled people and their families.

Campaigning for change is very important to me – #100days100stories

Nathan, 19, is a wheelchair user and has been a campaigner on disability issues for the last 10 years. On 7 May he’ll be casting his vote for the first time. Here, as part of Scope’s 100 days, 100 stories campaign, Nathan reflects on campaigning and politics. 

I am a young leader of the Birmingham Ambassador Club for the charity Whizz-Kidz. One of my responsibilities under this role is to lead on the Space Invaders Campaign.

This is a campaign to raise awareness of the misuse of disabled car parking spaces. I quickly realised we couldn’t simply fight the campaign on the principle that you are not disabled so you shouldn’t park here!

Instead I fought the campaign on the issue of an improved economy. If disabled people are allowed to get a parking space, they can get out to work more easily, and shop in a store freely, which contributes to the local economy. It makes sense!

Voting for the first time

Campaigning for change is very important to me and I am really looking forward to casting my vote on 7 May in the General Election. I believe it is vital that disabled people engage with politics, as too often our issues are not discussed.

I am really excited and it got me thinking about how 10 years ago I started my very first campaign; it has been many years of hard graft, with sometimes sleepless nights, but it has been worth it.

The start of it all

Group of people in a political setting, three standing and two in wheelchairs,Back then I remember my mother telling me that a disabled person had to be carried into 10 Downing Street.

I knew that they had just passed a law that meant all public buildings should be fully accessible and so it seemed a bit strange that the official home of the Prime Minister wasn’t also classed as a public building.

I was so angered that I wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and other ministers. I was contacted by the Parliamentary Officer at Scope, who invited me to visit Downing Street with them.

We went down to London and arrived at the famous black iron gates where I faced my first public relations (PR) task by being interviewed for Central Tonight, my local news programme.

They asked, “What’s next for you?” I couldn’t reply with the truthful answer “I don’t know!” I decided to go instead with the stock response, “I will hopefully do some more campaigning and become an MP one day”.

It’s hard work

From this first foray into campaigning I have had to work hard to ensure that I remain at the top of my game.

It is a common misconception that the only thing campaigners have to do is stand and talk about their issue, but there is a lot more to successful campaigning.

Many campaigning skills are the same skills we all need in any work situation, including critical thinking, presentation skills and understanding of financial and social trends.

Raising awareness

I do not accept the argument that the only way to gain greater public awareness for disabled people and the charities that support us is to make everybody you are appealing to sad all the time.

Whilst I appreciate that it can sometimes be very difficult for disabled people, I believe it is better to highlight the positives than the negatives and show what it could be like rather than play to people’s perceptions.

If like Nathan you are a campaigner between the ages of 18 and 25 and would like to develop your campaigns skills further email: campaigns@scope.org.uk for more details.

You can find out more about the lives of people like Nathan and others in our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

9 reasons to love Fridays

We LOVE Fridays! And here are nine reasons why they are so great.  

  1.  Lie in tomorrow!Woman lying in bed with an eye mask, and a ginger cat trying to wake her up

  2. It gets to 4pm and you can’t contain your excitementWoman cheering in an office and running towards the door

  3. You can head straight to the pub after work Five men drinking pints in a traditional pub

  4. The world is your oyster, everything is possibleWoman spinning around and smiling in a meadow - scene from The Sound of Music

  5. You feel like dancingCarlton and Will from 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' dancing

  6. Having a take away is completely acceptableHomer Simpson eating takeaway on his bed

  7. You can catch up with friends you haven’t seen all weekJoey from friends hugging Chandler

  8. If you don’t go out, there’s fun Friday TVGraham Norton puling the lever on the red chair in his Friday night show

  9. And you can play Scope’s Friday Lottery! Scrooge McDuck swimming in money

Being in with a chance to win £500 in Scope’s Friday lottery would be a great start to the weekend!  Don’t miss out, play today. 

What would you do with an extra £500 this Friday?