Before joining Access to Public Appointments, I didn’t know what a public appointment was, but when I saw the advert, it did seem like something I’d be interested in. The aim of the pilot project was for disabled people to shadow public body Boards in Scotland for twelve months. The world is not built for disabled people, not accessible to us, so we are often seen as incapable of engaging with it. An opportunity to disprove this and to dispel the myths still surrounding disability was a challenge I was happy to take on.
Following an information and training day, and a short interview, I was one of six participants chosen to shadow a public body Board, supported by a current Board member acting as my mentor. I was delighted to be paired with NatureScot, an organisation I had previously heard of without fully understanding their remit.
My mentor was Cath Denholm, joint vice chair of Nature Scot. I met Cath for coffee prior to receiving my first set of Board papers. This was an informal meeting where Cath explained about the time commitment required and some practical issues around being a Board member. As a blind person, I am a confident traveller, but like most disabled people when attending a new location, I have some reservations around practical matters, such as finding toilet facilities not just for myself but for my guide dog. NatureScot could not have been more understanding.
Right from the start they asked what support they could offer to ensure I was able to physically attend in person with Poppy my guide dog and what adjustments they could make to ensure I got as much from the shadowing experience as possible. One slight alteration was in how the Executive Office issued Board papers. To make it easier to read each paper and relate them to the agenda, I received my set of papers as individual documents rather than a single large PDF document, which made them easier to navigate using screen reading software.
In my first meeting it became clear that NatureScot is a huge organisation with a vast portfolio and has a vital role to play in tackling climate change. As my mentor, Cath was excellent. She really made me feel at ease and helped me to get the most out of my shadowing experience. Board papers can be long, often complex, and sometimes cover areas that you haven’t come across before, but Cath’s support meant I was able to read and digest papers, then ask questions which enhanced my understanding of the subject That I was able to discuss papers ahead of the meeting meant I was able to avoid my biggest fear of asking a question that would clearly indicate I had little or no understanding of the conversation at hand. This was my opportunity to show that disabled people can make valuable contributions to public body Boards, and I didn’t want to waste that.
I learned so much in my year shadowing the Board of NatureScot, and I feel I am now equipped with the necessary skills to apply for public appointments and take a role on a public body Board. I want to thank Inclusion Scotland, Cath Denholm, the Scottish Government, and the Board and staff of NatureScot for the help and support I have received during this time.
I would encourage any disabled person to apply for a public appointment. More disabled people engaging with public bodies can only improve their understanding of disability and disabled people, and by being on a Board you have an opportunity to influence change and ensure that disabled people’s access is considered as part of the decision-making process.
Don’t be put off by the cumbersome application process or some of the academic wording. See past that, and see your own role in shaping Scotland’s future, for disabled people, and for everyone.
More information on public appointments can be found at the Scottish Government’s Public Appointments website.