Ian McInnes (EaRN Equalities Ambassador) talks with Sarah Cleary (Health and Wellbeing Service Manager at Volunteer Edinburgh).
Sarah: I manage the health and wellbeing team at Volunteer Edinburgh. I first met Ian probably nearly 20 years ago and I have good memories of watching you cycle up and down Easter Road on your recumbant, probably faster up Easter Road than I could have done! I’ve worked with Ian as far as helped you secure volunteering over those years in various capacities, gardening, management committee, all sorts of things. Although we work together as client and advisor I think we’ve become friends as well and we now share a hobby of sussing out Hot Chocolates around Edinburgh, and the challenges of getting around pavements in Edinburgh.
Ian: Don’t get me started on that one!
Sarah: Well have you got anything you would like to say?
Ian: I bumped into one of my colleagues I work with on Living Streets the other day and he was complaining to me about the state of the pavements in Edinburgh. I’ve just come along a particularly bad one, the one on Dalmeny Street is extremely bad, it’s all pot holes and it’s very hard on the old posterior let’s say!
Sarah: How does the state of the pavements impact on you getting out and about and getting to your volunteering or the farmers market?
Ian: It’s not too bad for me because I’ve been doing it for years so I know where the good places are to cross. People who are tourists to this city don’t have that kind of knowledge. So that’s one thing we are trying to overcome in the Access Panel, getting more crossing points and more obvious crossing points.
Sarah: What does an equal Edinburgh look like? In an ideal world what would it be like?
Ian: I know because Edinburgh is an old city they cannot widen all the pavements, but at least getting more ramps in the right place, and one of our hobby horses in the access panel is getting rid of these A boards that clutter up thin pavements which means we have to go very near to the kerb which means we could topple over which is not good because I’ve done it more than once.
Sarah: So if you could achieve one thing, what would it be?
Ian: To make Edinburgh more accessible for disabled people generally.
Sarah: Have you ever experienced any forms of discrimination Ian?
Ian: Quite a few, there are two points I’ll make. When we are manoeuvring into our spaces on busses and there are people sitting in the seats, even though you say “excuse me do you mind moving your legs”, the amount of people that will at you like you are from Mars and they also ignore what you are saying, but they are quick enough to complain when you clip your ankles, but you’ve already warned them so there’s not a lot else you can do.
Sarah: How does that make you feel?
Ian: Annoyed that they don’t listen to what you are saying. And that brings me on to my second point. I’ve already said that I work in the Citizens Advice Bureau. I work on the reception, and people come in and they’ll talk to the other person on the reception desk even though I’ve said hello when they come through the door and they will totally blank me, which really gets my wick. Half the time I’m far more qualified than they are.
Sarah: What would you like to say to those people? If you could let them know how that makes you feel, and what you think of them when that happens.
Ian: Well it wouldn’t be very professional of me to do it in that situation.
Sarah: So you hold back and hold on to those feelings and thoughts.
Ian: I do but is doesn’t make you feel good when it happens.
Sarah: So what goes through your head when that happens to you?
Ian: Something like how ignorant can you be? It’s quite annoying.
Sarah: Like you just said, often you are the one with more knowledge and more experience.
Ian: The ironic thing is because I’m on with other people, some people actually say to me are you a trainee? When I’ve been doing the same job for at least 25 years.
Sarah: And have you actually been doing the training, is it that the person next to you is being trained by you?
Ian: I’ve not trained down in Dalmeny Street, but when I was working in the CAB office in Dundas Street, I did train all the receptionists up there.
Sarah: So the irony is that the person they thought was the trainee was in fact the trainer. How does that make you feel?
Ian: Well when that incident did come up I did answer back and say I’ve been doing this for 25 years and it shut them up pretty quickly.
Sarah: But then you shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place
Sarah: How do we change that? How do we stop that from happening?
Ian: That’s an interesting question because when I was at college I’ve already said I’ve got my gold defender, I ran the disability package, and we took it around different schools and community groups and it got so popular it ended up in the Gloucester Press. The easiest route to actually do it we found was actually primary school children who did not have any barriers up yet. The real thing is education and getting it over at an early age.
Sarah: So you’ve met James my son, he thought your gates were fantastic, what would you say to him, what would you wish for him growing up in Edinburgh and how do we prevent that happening?
Ian: The advantage that James has is he has already been round certain disabled people before from a young age, and I see that too in my nieces and nephews because they have seen me since they were babies, so they don’t have the same barriers that other people have.
Sarah: So if you take a jump and think, you are talking about talking and hanging out and person to person, how does that translate into Equality Acts and legislation, you are talking about real change happens by spending time with each other. What do you think about the equality act and the role that plays, how can that help, what needs to be there on a legislative level in Edinburgh, does it work , does it get it right?
Ian: That goes back to the committees I’m on with the council, the access panela and the transport forum. We need to get to get our voices heard, the risk is if we don’t get our voices heard, people will put in what they think we need, half the time we can go along and what they have put in is completely hopeless.
Sarah: Who do you want to listen, who are you trying to speak to?
Ian: Basically, councillors and politicians and people in power who can make a difference.
Sarah: Do you think they listen, do you think they hear what you are saying, do they get it?
Ian: Half the time they probably don’t get the message but if you repeat it enough they will.
Sarah: How does EaRN help, you are an EaRN ambassador now, what can EaRN ambassadors do to make that happen?
Ian: We are another voice that can hopefully make people sit up and pay attention.