Deaf councillor calling on council to encourage disabled people into politics

Councillor Ashley Graczyk
Councillor Ashley Graczyk

A DEAF councillor is calling on the city council to “take the lead” in encouraging disabled people to play a more active role in politics.

Conservative Cllr Ashley Graczyk is the City of Edinburgh Council’s first and only profoundly deaf councillor. The Gorgie and Sighthill representative will put forward two motions at Thursday’s full council meeting calling on the authority to help “empower” those with disabilities to become more involved in council business.

Cllr Graczyk takes part in committee meetings with the help of a stenographer who provides real-time subtitling.

She said: “The aim is to advocate and share ideas which can empower and contribute to disability inclusive development in public services, and to look at best practice in implementing this duty within the council’s remit.

“As the first profoundly deaf City of Edinburgh councillor, I firmly believe all elected bodies at national, devolved and local levels must take the lead in making the practical changes needed to enable disabled people to participate fully in political and public life.”

Cllr Graczyk took part in an international conference in Vienna during the council’s Easter recess, which looked closely at promoting the participation of women with disabilities in politics.

At the conference, run by Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the councillor helped share the work of Inclusion Scotland – which aims to bring about change to allow disabled people to become more included in society, including politics.

Cllr Graczyk added: “One of the things that struck me when I was there was the emotional impact it had on me when I was listening to the various experiences from different countries. It really did reinforce the support we, disabled people, receive in Scotland.

“When I was selected as a Scottish Conservative councillor candidate for the Sighthill and Gorgie ward last year, I was, and still am, grateful for the wonderful support I received from Inclusion Scotland – including the ‘access to elected office fund’ which was designed to level the playing field for disabled people to fight political campaigns where they face issues that non-disabled people do not need to consider.”

The first motion that Cllr Graczyk put forward after being elected on to the council last year, which called for subtitles to be added to the webcasting of committee meetings, was backed with cross-party support.

The first motion to be tabled by Cllr Graczyk on Thursday will be an appeal for the authority to create a British Sign Language and stenographer agency, while another motion, supported by Green Cllr Susan Rae, will call for the creation of a cross-party disability forum to be led by disabled people including councillors and council staff.

At last year’s council elections, Inclusion Scotland’s pilot fund provided financial assistance to 44 potential candidates – with 39 of these selected to run as candidates and 15, including Cllr Graczyk, were elected.