Interview with Jamie Hale, Chair of the new Lewisham Disabled People's Commission
“I remember times in my life when I felt very disempowered. It never occurred to me that I would have a voice or that people would listen to me.”
So says Jamie Hale, a Lewisham-based poet, writer and disability advocate. He has just been appointed as the Chair of the newly formed Lewisham Disabled People's Commission set up by Lewisham Council to provide independent and expert scrutiny of services for disabled people. Led by disabled people, the Commission will play a key role over the coming years in defining and shaping services for disabled people across the borough.
Jamie, 28, has lived in the borough since 2014 and has a long history of campaigning to remove the barriers impacting on the lives of disabled people.
He said: “This is the kind of position I’ve dreamed of having for a long time because it really has the ability to make changes that will affect people’s lives. I want disabled people to think about how they can make a difference, not just about the barriers they face.”
Raised in a Quaker family in Surrey, Jamie says the example of his parents prompted him at the age of 12 to help organise an anti-Iraq war demonstration. As a student at Royal Holloway University he set up a Disabled Students’ Network and went on to front a £50,000 disability arts project with the Barbican Centre which included his solo show, NOT DYING.
The cost of adult social care is of particular concern to the experienced campaigner and he says he ultimately wants to see charges abolished.
He said: “I know from personal experience that when you live on benefits the adult social care charges can be enormous and wipe out most of your disposable income. While I no longer face these, I remain passionate about campaigning to abolish them."
As a wheelchair user he is a supporter of the national Changing Places campaign for accessible toilets. As Chair of the Commission he will be working to get more installed in public buildings, as well as ensuring better access to high street shops.
Jamie said: “We have pretty good dropped kerbs and good quality pavements compared to many other boroughs. But when I go down the high street there are still numerous shops that a wheelchair user can’t go into, or a deaf person can’t ask a shop assistant a question about a product in. That’s something we definitely need to improve.”
The newly formed Commission has taken on five other members: Peter Cronin, Ifeoma Orjiekwe, Richard Amm, Lorraine Ogundiran and Tihani Yusuf. Recruitment is underway to attract six more representing a wide range of disabilities and viewpoints.
Jamie added: “I’m really keen to reach out to people who might not have realised they can be part of something like this are and encourage them to apply. With a broad and diverse coalition of commissioners I believe we can make some real changes in the borough.”