THE COSTS for sign language interpreters, taxi fares or equipment could be met for disabled people seeking election as part of a pilot Welsh Government fund.
The Access to Elected Office Fund – managed by Disability Wales – is now open to support individuals for next year’s local government elections who may need extra help to run for office.
With 1,254 councillors elected to 22 principal councils across Wales, the fund aims to increase diversity and address the current under-representation of disabled people in public life at all levels.
As well as support for council candidates, the pilot is also available for those seeking election to community and town councils in the 2022 local government elections – amounting to 735 community and town councils, with over 8,000 councillors.
The fund’s expansion will provide a greater number of opportunities for disabled people to achieve their aim of participating in local democracy to support their communities.
The fund will cover additional costs such as equipment, training, travel and communication support workers such as British Sign Language and other interpreters.
Damian Bridgeman, who has complex cerebral palsy and previously stood for election before the Welsh Government established the fund, said: “I really wanted to make a difference to society and to show the people of Wales that actually we need a diverse electorate to represent us, because if we don’t have diverse voices, we’re not really going to be able to represent them fairly.
“I would have put funding support towards a personal assistant. I would have put it towards running a lot more meet-and-greets, so that it felt a bit easier than actually running on a traditional door-knocking event. I could have controlled the environments that I would have actually interacted with the electorate therefore taking away the barriers and allowing myself to achieve what I needed to achieve.”
Rebecca Evans, the Minister for Finance and Local Government said: “I am pleased to be able offer this funding for any disabled person who is looking to get involved in public life and needs some help to do so. We want to enable participation for as many people as possible in our upcoming elections.”
Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, said: “We have to do more to increase diversity among our elected officials if we are to make Wales a fair and just society, free from discrimination and inequality.
“This funding will help to ensure that disabled people do not face barriers when taking part in Welsh elections by paying for the reasonable adjustments they need.”
Tina Sharp, a Knighton town councillor with Arnold Chiari Malformation, found it difficult to canvass as a wheelchair user when she stood for election.
Tina said: “Running for election is really difficult in a wheelchair because going around campaigning, I can’t get down everybody’s front path, or if they live in a flat, I can’t get there, so I had one of my personal assistants come around with me to post pamphlets through the door.
“A positive thing though, because I’m in a wheelchair, I can go around town so people can approach me on the street where they do that quite a bit.
“There were a few people that didn’t know me, so they did tend to speak down to me, tended to speak to the chair. But I’m not the chair; I am a person.
“It needs to be put out there that anybody can run for election.
“You don’t have to be able-bodied; you can have a disability. Whether you’re in a wheelchair, whether you have sight problems, whatever your disability is, if you want to stand you should be able to stand. There are ways around obstacles if you put your mind to it.”
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Constitution, Darren Millar MS, welcomed the funding’s news: “This fund was on offer to people standing in this year’s Senedd elections, and I am delighted to see that it will be open again for candidates in the Welsh local government elections next year.
“I hope the fund – which can be used towards travel, personal assistance, training and assistive aids – will encourage more people from all walks to life to throw their hat into the ring.”
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Local Government, Sam Rowlands MS, added: “Democracy works best when we have candidates and elected officials from all different backgrounds.
“I would like to encourage anyone interested in standing for election to find out how this incredibly important fund could support them by visiting the Disability Wales website or getting in contact with them.”
To apply for the funding and more information, visit: www.disabilitywales.org/projects/access-to-elected-office-fund-wales or email: [email protected]