A North Wales MS has spoken out about his experience as a disabled person in politics and the barriers he has faced.

Mark Isherwood told those an AEOFW (Access to Elected Office Fund Wales) ‘Disabled Access to Politics’ event that when he entered front line politics in 2003 he was dependent on hearing aids and that the then National Assembly for Wales was “very supportive”.

He highlighted that the Senedd has still not had a member who is a wheelchair user in its almost 23 year existence and said there is a “real need” for more disabled people to stand in future elections, including May 2022 local elections

He said: “By the time I entered front line politics, my wife and I had six children, one of whom we had had to battle to get a Statement of Special Educational Needs for – two of our children have neuro-diverse conditions, one lost her hearing, two are Cancer Survivors and one has had to wear glasses since he was tiny. Like my Father, I was by now personally dependent on hearing aids.

“Fortunately, the then Assembly was very supportive and has always provided me with the equipment I need to follow proceedings in the Chamber and Committee. However, I had to persuade the Assembly Commission - our Parliamentary Service - to extend this to Cross Party Group and other meetings held on the Parliamentary Estate.

“I am now in my fifth term as a Member of the Opposition and Shadow Cabinet in what is now the Welsh Parliament or Senedd, representing North Wales. Although the Welsh Parliament prides itself on being disability accessible, they have had to be reminded frequently that barriers to disability access exist or have been designed in because of an apparent failure to involve lived experience. And the Senedd has still not had a member who is a wheelchair user in its almost 23 year existence.

“As this summer’s UK Government 'Barriers to elected office for disabled people' report states 'disabled people, who make up around one in five of the UK population, are thought to be under-represented in politics at different levels of government, both across the UK and internationally' and that the number of disabled people in politics across all levels of Government 'are almost always below one in five', confirming that disabled people are under-represented."

“The report also finds that “disabled people face a number of barriers when participating in Party Politics, including venue accessibility, lack of interpretation, inaccessible formatting of materials, lack of facilities, and cultural barriers - including a lack of awareness, knowledge and interest on the part of some local Parties to make politics more accessible for disabled people”.

He added: “Speaking in the Senedd Debate on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee Inquiry into Diversity in local government in 2019, I stated: ‘We heard that Access to Elected Office Funds already exist in England and Scotland to assist disabled people to stand for election, but, no such fund currently exists in Wales’. The Welsh Government has since launched the Access to Elected Office Fund to support disabled people to stand for elected office."

Since becoming a Member of the Senedd, Mr Isherwood has become the Patron or equivalent for a number of Disability Charities. He also works closely with the sector as the voluntary, elected Chair of several Cross Party Groups, including those on Disability, Autism, Deaf Issues, and Hospices and Palliative Care.

He emphasised at the event “that people are not disabled by their impairments, but by the barriers to access and inclusion which society places in their way – and that we must work with disabled people to remove these, seeing the world through their eyes, giving them the voice, choice, control and independence they seek and deserve.”