Speech of Wheelchair Users ( Human Rights) Scottish Parliament 5 March 2008

Members have already indicated that this is an important debate.

If Mr Carlaw was hesitant about following Trish Godman's speech, he should consider how I feel about having to speak after him—he encapsulated the passion around this issue, which a lot of us share.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

Today, I met people from Quarriers—in particular, one of my constituents, Mr Fraser Wood—and again I recognised the challenge that people face in addressing the question of wheelchair use as wheelchair users themselves.

Like any equalities issue on the agenda for action, this issue is there not because of our good will and because we care about it, but because of the campaign activity, determination and energy of those who experience inequality and of the carers who support them.

Wheelchair users and their carers have driven the agenda on this issue, and I applaud their energy and the energy of the groups and voluntary organisations that have supported them in ensuring that there was a review of wheelchair services and that we are now at the stage where we want to make further progress.

I will not make a party-political point—the points that have been made so far all show that the problem's existence is a reproach to all of us who are in a position to do something about it.

It is also a broader reproach to a society that has allowed the situation to go on for too long.

It is clear that political action should be shaped by those who not only understand the problems, but have the solutions.

I hope that the minister can answer the question whether there is now a disability forum sitting inside the Scottish Government that would bring these groups together.

There was such a body in the past, and I hope that she will commit today to bringing such a group together to pursue these issues, because it could press the right arguments in the right places.

The test of the rhetoric of equality and our commitment to it is an understanding of the practical issues that need to be addressed in order to deliver on that rhetoric.

The wheelchair example is as good as any of the way in which we have to move from a general commitment to equality to addressing the practical issues that provide the barriers.

I hope that there is a proper understanding of the need to deliver in partnership with those who understand the issues best.

The critical issue is that we need to view the wheelchair not as a machine or as a mechanism, but as a straightforward part of someone's care package and as the way in which they manage to maximise their abilities and their potential.

The comparison with hip replacements is a good one.

We do not see hip replacements in the same way—as somehow being a bonus, when in fact they can be critical to the quality of people's lives and their capacity to engage with their families and broader society.

As has been said, we need to look at the person and not the wheelchair, and we should not try to shape the person into what we think their wheelchair should be.

Why should they not have the wheelchair that they need for the kind of disability and needs that they have?

The review was driven by those who understood the issues, and I wonder why the action plan has been delayed—for another year, it seems.

Will the minister at least commit to examining these issues, which could be progressed before the broader action plan recommendations are brought forward?

That would give people confidence that action was being taken.

I note from some of the submissions that we have received that people want a national service.

Wheelchair service provision seems to be irrational and not attached to need within local areas—I ask the minister to consider that issue.

There is a broader issue about social inclusion and human rights, which is encapsulated in the way that we talk about disabled parking spaces.

Somehow people think that someone with a disabled parking space has stolen a march and is getting a privilege.

Some of the debate around wheelchair services is like that—it is as if someone is asking for something extra.

The fact that the matter has been put in the context of human rights is critical.

We should not tolerate the barriers.

I hope that the minister will respond positively to the supportive points that members have made in the debate.