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13 Questions: Susan Archibald

by Emma Tracey

6th January 2010

44 year-old disability rights campaigner, and blogger for the Sunday Mail, Susan Archibald lives in Fife with her husband and 4 children. Previously a street sweeper, she became mobility impaired after unsuccessful surgery. Endless barriers to getting a job on attempting to rejoin the workforce prompted Susan to take her employer, Fife Council, to court.

The case went on for 5 years. Susan tells of having to crawl up a spiral staircase 5 days in a row to attend a disability discrimination hearing at one ironic stage in the battle. Supported by the dRC, she finally won in 2004. The judgment subsequently changed the UK employment laws for disabled workers, putting a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments if they become unable to do their job due to disability.

In the years since, much hard work knocking on doors and speaking out, as well as a certain charm, have installed her as a regular in the Scottish Parliament buildings as a member of numerous cross-party working groups. She is involved with Inclusion Scotland and the Independent Living Movement, and has, by her own volition, gained a reputation as, "Someone who gets things done". "Now, changes are made before I even get to the meeting", she says.

Happily, Susan didn’t need much persuasion to answer our 13 Questions and with her very strong local accent, the responses were a joy. I particularly liked being called 'hen’.
Susan Archibald.

Today I am thinking about...

The bloody snow. It's a bit of a barrier. I need someone to get me from my house to my car, but once I'm in the car I'm fine. That is irrelevant though when I think about how much work we seriously need to undertake this year to try and move the disability agenda forward.

The most amazing thing that could happen in 2010 would be ...

If they finally fit a disabled ramp to number 10 Downing Street. Such an ordinary thing would make the country stand up and look at it as an example.

People think I am ...

An inspirational, indestructible female. Someone once told me that they should invent Susan Archibald suits. At first I thought he meant sumo wrestling suits, because I'm a bit overweight, but he said that if someone could slide into my clothes for a day, they could go to meetings and be as confident, powerful and knowledgeable as I am.

Someone should invent ...

A trolley that can fit more than 2 wains, [young children], in it. Disabled or not, it is hard to do your shopping with 2 babies in the trolley and another running around after you.

Not a lot of people know that...

I am not very good at writing. Doing the blog for the Sunday Mail is a huge thing for me. I don't know the difference between the two theres or what nouns are. And do you want to know the best bit? I'm starting to write my book.

I struggle with ...

Putting my shoes and socks on. Seriously though, not much, because I'm very patient. I don't see life as a struggle, but as an adventure.

I excel at ...

Talking. I can talk for Scotland and I'm really quite good at selling myself, or the disability movement. If there is a door, I'll find it.
The Scottish parliament building's exterior

My ideal dinner guest would be ...

Barrack Obama. He's a very interesting, intelligent man and very forward thinking. Never one to waste an opportunity, I would definitely speak to him about the UN convention for people with disabilities. When you are up for the movement, it doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing. We think about this in our lives 24 hours a day. Politicians just don't get it. They meet with us and then come back the next time to ask the same questions all over again.

I couldn't function without ...

My car. I do a huge amount of travelling with work and our transport here is a joke. They are called Stage Coach and that is exactly what they are like.

I get distracted by …

Nothing really. I'm quite a focused person. I see something, go for it and get it. I used to use a wheelchair and now I have crutches. I rehabilitated myself on the ramp outside my house. After a while I started walking to the local shop. Luckily the owner was a friend of the families because when I got there I had to have a sleep on his sofa.

There's nothing quite like ...

A cup of Cadburys hot chocolate. I've always got a tin in my suitcase. And it's got to be with milk.

My motto is …

Change your cannies for you kinni. This means Change you can't to you can.

The Susan Archibald Foundation is ...

Going to be, amongst other things, the first disability law centre in Scotland. A place where people can come when they feel they are being discriminated against by their employer. I feel that most things can be sorted out by talking them through, so if I, or a pannel of disability specialists can't get mediation to work through exploring every possible channel, only then will I look at handing that particular case over to a solicitor. The foundation will be launched before the summer.
• Emma Tracey blogs about interviewing Susan Archibald

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