25 September 2014

S4M-10988 Accessible Tourism

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-10988, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on accessible tourism.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will kind of disagree with everybody who has spoken so far in the debate, because we have been utterly without ambition in our contributions, and I intend to remedy that in my seven minutes or so.

We have just heard from Rob Gibson, who said that

“we are not there yet.”

However, nobody has described what “there” is. Nobody has said what the world would look like if we had a blank canvas and we drew it anew. The reality is that the world that we all seek is one in which there are no special facilities for people with special needs or disabilities, not because we do not provide for them but because every facility meets their needs and everybody uses them.

Is that hopelessly ambitious? Not necessarily. Those who have travelled on a class 170 train on our railways—they are the trains that are mostly used between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so many members might have done that—will know that the toilets are disabled capable. They are not disabled toilets, as we all use them. Why should that not be the case everywhere?

Dennis Robertson: Will Mr Stevenson take a brief intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will in a minute or two, but I want to say a little more first.

We have spent far too much time focusing on people’s inabilities and not enough time on realising people’s capabilities that we currently do not provide for. I will give a few examples. A colleague that I used to work with was registered blind and his visual acuity was, in essence, restricted to being able to distinguish light from dark, yet one of his hobbies was flying gliders. He did not do it on his own, but he was able to fly gliders. Was that not stepping up to something ambitious?

Do members know that it is possible for people to get a private pilots licence when they have only one eye and they cannot hear? Why should not more people who have only one eye and no hearing get that pilots licence? Why do we not have cookery courses, or gardening courses, for people with a range of shortcomings in sight, hearing or touch? Why should not holidays for people with some restricted capabilities also be holidays for their carers? Taking on holiday another team of carers would double the economic benefit and the benefit to individuals.

When we get away from the ghettoisation of some members of our community and we are all the same and all accessing the same facilities, that will be the real triumph.

Dennis Robertson: The gold standard was spoken about earlier by Nanette Milne and Jamie Hepburn in relation to Crathie Opportunity Holidays, whose chalets are fully accessible not only to people with mobility or sensory impairments but to people who have no mobility or sensory impairments whatsoever. The beauty of such a facility is that it shows that the gold standard can happen, because it is fully accessible to all regardless of need.

Stewart Stevenson: Delightful, excellent and a model for everywhere, but we succeed only when everywhere is like that. I do not think that we are setting our ambition high enough. Of course, in reality we can probably never realise every aspect of that ambition. However, if we aim for the highest possible standard and drop a little bit short, is that not better than aiming for mediocrity and succeeding? I say to colleagues around the chamber that that is the key message.

There are a few other things that have not been mentioned. There is a range of sensory deprivations that people might have and ways in which we might stimulate the senses. That might particularly be the case for people with a degree of mental ill health, who might benefit from being able to go into a garden and just listen to the bumblebees gathering the pollen from the flowers. As someone without any particular needs, I love doing that. There was a garden for smells in Aberdeen at one stage—I do not know whether it is still there—which people with particular needs felt were interesting.

In my intervention on the minister, I talked about the need to consider people who are suffering ill health, whether it is temporary or permanent, and who are unable to get insurance to travel internationally and are experiencing some limitations. We must include those people. That means, for example, that they need to have confidence that they can get their specialist medicines if they need them in, perhaps, Acharacle or some more distant part of Scotland. We need to ensure that that happens and that local medical people can get access to their records if they are required in order to give confidence to the people concerned that that will be possible.

Let us not underrate the ambition of people who have apparent restrictions. A great event—I have not heard of it for a wee while—was the Grampian Society for the Blind racetrack day, when blind people drove around a racetrack. Someone sat beside them saying “Left”, “Right”, “Slow down” and occasionally “SLOW DOWN!” That was great excitement for people who are blind. Of course, us sighted people got blindfolds and drove around the track blind as well, and we were not nearly as fast as the people who had no sight at all.

I think, too, of Evelyn Glennie, who plays in an orchestra and yet has no hearing. Why should we not encourage people who have no hearing to follow Evelyn Glennie’s example and have a holiday playing in an orchestra and learning an instrument? We have got to use every means to create the opportunity for people to extend their experience and capabilities and test their limits. That applies to us all, by the way. This is not a ghetto issue, but a matter for all of us. That is what life is about. It is about grabbing it by the throat and trying new things. We must create a society and a world in which that is possible.

We will triumph when there are no disabled signs visible anywhere. We will triumph when everybody is treated equally and has equal opportunity. It may not be possible, but it is about time that we started to think in terms of trying.


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