With the Brexit referendum last year and the recent parliamentary election, there’s seemingly no way to escape politics in Britain today. Even my children, who until recently had no clue about, nor interest in, politics, now come home from school and tell me about fiery political conversations in the playground.
Whichever side of the political divide one is on, few (I hope) would dispute the benefits of a more diversely representative parliament, and that is what last week’s poll brought about.
The election saw the number of female MPs, ethnic minority MPs and LGBTQ MPs increase, which is all positive news, although white male MPs still far outnumber the rest.
Meanwhile, the number of openly disabled MPs rose from two to five in the 2017 election which is a small step in the right direction.
Labour’s Marsha de Cordova, who is registered blind, took Battersea, previously a Conservative seat.
In her victory speech, de Cordova spoke openly about her intention to use her MP seat to lobby for the rights of disabled people:
“Accessibility in our public places and on public transport still falls short of what is reasonable.”
James O’Mara, another newly elected MP who ousted none other than the former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, gave an emotional victory speech:
“Twenty years ago, there was a fifteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who went to his careers advisor at school. His careers advisors asked him, ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’ And that fifteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy said, ‘I’d like to be a politician.’
If you haven’t noticed already, that boy is me.
I do have cerebral palsy, and I want every single disabled person out there to know, everybody who’s got learning difficulties, everyone who has mental health issues, everybody who has a physical disability like me, or has any illness…I will be on your side.
I will be your ally and friend and champion in Westminster.”
Does it really matter if we have MPs with disabilities? It matters greatly because disabled people are profoundly under-represented in public life, and public attitudes towards disability remain largely negative.
Key to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, I believe, is the normalisation of disability in society, and a powerful way of doing that is by making people with disabilities more visible, in parliament, in government, in media, etc.
We need more MPs with disabilities who can hold the ruling elite to account for its disability policies, especially as the government has made life-altering cuts to disability benefits in recent years, depriving people of the means to live independent, fulfilling lives.
There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, and yet disability rights remains a niche issue. That needs to change. Disability rights must become everyday rights.