Next year I’ll be leaving school and I don’t know what that will mean for my life. Obviously a lot of 18 year olds feel this way, but for me it’s different. I have profound physical disabilities and a learning disability.
This is my first time voting and I know that, as a disabled person, my future will be greatly shaped by the next government.
So on Tuesday I’m going to the National Disability Hustings in Westminster, with learning disability charity Mencap, to have my voice heard. Because this election came about so quickly, there is only going to be one disability hustings event with candidates from the main parties.
Despite disabled people often being the first to feel the effects of government policies, we are the last to be listened to.
I worry that during this election campaign, disabled voices aren’t being heard and we can’t let that happen. We are more affected than any other group by political decisions.
Benefits and social care have changed so much for disabled people in the past few years that I really don’t know what life will be like in 2018.
I do know that it will be difficult for me to get a job. Less than 6% of people with a learning disability are in full-time employment. But I have skills, and I’ll have qualifications when I leave school. I’m also a disability rights campaigner. I even managed to get Leicester City FC to install “changing place” toilets (toilets that mean people with more profound disabilities don’t have to be changed on the floor) when I was just 16.
I have a lot to offer, but many employers just put a block on it. They don’t see past the disability and they don’t know that all it takes is reasonable adjustments. But it’s not just up to employers, the next government has to change things.
The number of disabled people with a job hasn’t really risen, and without government help it won’t. Unless whoever forms the next administration promises to do something, people like me will leave school without the chance of finding work. It makes me sad because I’d love to make a living doing something I’m passionate about, like campaigning.
So I know I’ll be heavily reliant on benefits like personal independent payments. A lot of people don’t get through the application process for PIP even though many qualify for it. I’m less worried about me, my physical disability is so severe it will be hard for them to turn me down. But at the same time so many people who need PIP as much as I do get rejected. That’s wrong and it’s something the next government has to review.
At tomorrow’s National Disability Hustings, I also want to ask about the NHS. I’m concerned about disability services in my community, beyond hospitals and outpatients, because these services are vital to help me live my life.
I use a specialist seating system to get around, and in my area the services that provide this get contracted out to private companies. With the NHS in crisis, I don’t know how much longer services like this will last. If they do go under, I don’t have thousands of pounds to replace things like my chair. I think the people running the country should try and understand just how much these things change people’s lives and listen to us.
My future and the future of thousands of people like me rests with the new government. That’s why my vote counts.
People see me in my wheelchair and think, oh, we can push him aside. But people with a disability really have something to bring to the table, we can add so much to this country if we have the chance.
I look at how things were 50 years ago and how things are now and I see a difference, but I think we have stopped moving forward. In some ways we are moving backwards. But we can make improvements. If the new government works with the disability community, if they listen to us, then with a lot of commitment and hard work I know we can make a change.