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TX: 05.03.09 - Disabled Leaders - Jack Ashley

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

ASHLEY
Yes I must confess I found it extraordinarily difficult. When everyone's just chatting you couldn't possibly join in but somehow I got by.

WHITE
Did you find some people found it easier to ignore you?

ASHLEY
They certainly did but the essence of deafness is isolation. Some of my old friends would walk past you and just nod and smile with no attempt at conversation. I found it very hurtful indeed.

WHITE
You were a union rep at 21, I think, a councillor at 22, what motivated you initially?

ASHLEY
If I saw that people were being exploited or oppressed anywhere I reacted and then said so.

WHITE
You've campaigned on a whole range of issues - domestic violence, rape, bullied soldiers - but the disability has been pre-eminent, you never thought that that might typecast you?

ASHLEY
I have been typecast as a disability MP and as a deaf MP etc., but there's no way you can avoid that, it's better to speak out.

WHITE
David Blunkett sometimes used to say - and he said to me - I don't want to campaign with disabled people as my constituency because they ought to be every MPs constituency.

ASHLEY
If every disabled person says what David says then no one would tackle disability so I'm more than happy, I'm very proud to be campaigning on disability.

WHITE
One of your most recent initiatives was to introduce the Independent Living Bill into the Lords, why do you think that's so important?

ASHLEY
None of the acts that we've got on the statute books so far, although they're helpful, none of them have made for completely independent living. And the essence of this bill now is it provides rights which are mandatory.

WHITE
You also place emphasis on the fact that disabled people must be allowed an element of self assessment of their needs and do you understand hard pressed local authorities' slight fear of such a - what might look like a blank cheque?

ASHLEY
I realise the problems of local authorities but I don't sympathise with them very much because many of them are very hard faced and they give very little to disabled people. I think it's important to say to them you will provide for disabled people.

WHITE
Do you think you've sometimes be regarded as unrealistic in your aims?

ASHLEY
Well not sometimes, always by the accounts of [indistinct words]. Some ministers say not that bloody Jack Ashley again. So I know I'm a nuisance and a pest.

WHITE
I've seen you quoted as saying there's nothing good about being deaf. Now as you know the modern political stance is to stress the positives of disability, do you stick by that assessment - that there's nothing good about being deaf?

ASHLEY
Oh totally. I know that the so-called deaf community are very critical of me. Deafness to me is appalling and there's not a single good thing can be said for it, despite the views of some deaf people. My cochlear implant - I've had it for 18 years - so I had an operation for a new one two or three [indistinct words], if you could have seen my face when I went last week for the switch on, it was a magical moment to be switched on, as it were, to this cochlear implant. I think if these deaf people who defend deafness, if they saw that or if they experienced that they'd change their views very quickly.

WHITE
What would you like your legacy to be?

ASHLEY
I suppose it's helping oppressed - in quotes - oppressed people and I don't think - I seriously don't think I'm worth a legacy, I mean I'm just a backbencher now.

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