Ashley Graczyk is a deaf Conservative Councillor in Edinburgh. She explains why it's such great news that More United has successfully got the government to reinstate the Access to Elected Office Fund, and why it's crucial it stays open longterm.
In May 2017, I was elected as the first profoundly deaf Councillor for the City of Edinburgh. This is a huge privilege - and it's something I don't think I'd have achieved if it weren't for the support I received from Scotland's Access to Elected Office Fund during that campaign. The extra cost of campaigning with a disability is one of the biggest barriers preventing disabled people from getting involved in politics. The financial support I received meant I was able to overcome the additional barriers I face and fight the political campaign on a level playing field with non-disabled candidates.
So I was delighted to hear last week that More United's campaign has resulted in the government announcing they are reinstating the Fund in the rest of the UK for the next year.
When I was campaigning to be elected, having this Fund available to me was a liberating experience. I was able to employ a wonderful PA who during the campaign dealt with phone canvassing, intercoms during door knocking and leafleting, and with any missed parts of conversations. I'm convinced this contributed to making a positive impact with voters as they could see that, despite being profoundly deaf, I was demonstrably capable of serving them as a Councillor. I am living proof that the Access to Elected Office Fund works because I was elected with the highest 1st preference votes in my ward.
It's disabled people that know best about the barriers that prevent our full inclusion in British society because we experience them everyday. But we cannot remove them by ourselves. All elected bodies, at national, devolved, and local levels, must take the lead in making the practical changes needed to help disabled people participate fully in political and public life.
We need allies and supporters, we need those in power to hear disabled people’s voices and work with us to remove those barriers, and to push for the empowerment and advantage of creating real opportunities for disabled people.
I'm delighted that the government has decided to put funds into this effort and grateful to More United for running this critical campaign. Now it's crucial that sufficient funding is made available for the long term, not just the short term. I've written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, encouraging her to ensure this happens. That way, disabled people will always receive the support needed to become the inspiring politicians of the people that I am sure many will turn out to be.