Aberdeenshire UNISON made history as it celebrated Disability History Month and the International Day of People with Disabilities with an online event on 3rd December, as the first branch to hold such an event.
Those in attendance heard from a great line up of speakers, including Scottish Convener, Lilian Macer, Scottish Organiser, Peter Hunter, Angela Hamilton, NEC member and Kay McKerrill, Orkney Local Government Branch. We were also privileged to have UNISON Vice-President Sian Stockham with us and we heard some beautiful music from well-known local musician, Joseph Long.
Kathleen Kennedy, branch equalities officer chaired the event which also saw the launch of a booklet, Disability History: Fascinating Facts, penned by Kathleen.
Opening the event Lilian paid tribute to the branch for organising the event, and especially to Kathleen for driving the equalities agenda and for authoring the Fascinating Facts booklet. She pledged UNISON Scotland’s continuing commitment to the cause of disability rights.
Kay McKerril, a soclicitor to trade, looked at the changes to disability rights over the past 75 years and said it was hard to see significant improvements.She particularly criticised the changes to the benefits system for people with disabilities saying, “It was difficult to read about the impact of benefits changes and the flawed assessment process on disabled people.”
She called on the UK Government to commit to the UN Convention on Disability Rights.
Peter Hunter, who is an North East ‘laddie’ himself spoke about remembering, when he was young, seeing disabled people in Aberdeen being car park attendants as that was the only work they were able to gain for employment.
He spoke of UNISON’s fight for equal treatment for disabled members, outlining some wins but also a long way to go. He warned that in order to achieve equality on the grounds of disability there is a need for more favourable treatment, a principle established in a tribunal case that went to the highest court and won, supported by UNISON Scotland.
He called for more events like this and urged, “Approach the issue of discrimination with your heart as well as your head.”
Angela Hamilton spoke about the violence and abuse suffered by disabled people pointing out that disabled women are twice as likely to be raped than non disabled women. Yet whilst disability hate crime has increased, convictions have gone down. She called on UNISON to work towards disability hate crime having the same status as all other hate crimes.
She also challenged disabled people not to hide their disabilities to encouraged others. “It is society that disables us,” said Angela, “Everyone must commit as allies to supporting equality for all disabled people. When the world is a better place for disabled people, it will be a better place for us all.”
Joseph Long, a lifelong friend of Kathleen’s then spoke about his disability and how he has overcome that to be the beautiful and renowned musician that he is today.
This was an uplifting and inspiring event. We thank Kathleen for all her work in organising this event and for authoring the booklet, and we echo Kathleen’s thanks to all the speakers and to all those who attended.