Interviewer: Will McCabe
Interviewee: Meryl Gaskell

Meryl Gaskill standing with her hand resting on a cane with a lmossy imestone cliff-face immediately behind her

Introductions

Will McCabe (00:00:02):
Yes.

Meryl Gaskell (00:00:03):
Right, we’re off.

Will McCabe (00:00:05):
Okay. So just as a sort of a pre-warning, I will not be interrupting you at all. None of the usual mm’s and ah’s and all that, but I am paying attention. Also, I might need to rest my head at some point. Again, I am paying attention. It looks like I’m not, but I am.

Meryl Gaskell (00:00:26):
Okay. Fine.

Will McCabe (00:00:29):
So now I will record on this computer. And the first thing to do is to clap individually. So, I’ll go first.

Meryl Gaskell (00:00:43):
Same.

Will McCabe (00:00:48):
The date is 23rd of June, 2020. I am Will [McCabe 00:00:56] and you are?

Meryl Gaskell (00:00:59):
Meryl Gaskell.

Disability activism

Will McCabe (00:01:04):
Okay. So, when did you first get involved in Disability activism?

Meryl Gaskell (00:01:11):
Thank you. I’ve made lots of notes, so I will keep referring to my notes because I can’t remember things.

Will McCabe (00:01:15):
That’s absolutely fine.

Meryl Gaskell (00:01:21):
Okay. So, I had a riding accident when I was 16, which left me with a physical impairment to mobility difficulties. I mean it was a long time ago and some 20 years later, I was working in an office as a manager and I happened to see this, and I was looking for another job, and I saw this job advertisement for a director for Bristol Dial-A-Ride. In the spec, it said Disabled people only. I thought well, that’s quite interesting. I’ve never seen that before, and I’d be eligible even if everything else. So anyway, made a few more investigations. Then I thought, well, it’s [inaudible 00:02:02] voluntary organization. It’s doing minibus transport. That sounds good.

Director of Dial-A-Ride

Meryl Gaskell (00:02:09):
So, I applied, went for an interview and I got the job. That was in June 1993. The Dial-A-Ride itself didn’t start until… Well, it started in about 1990. I mean, what was it? It was a transport service for Disabled people. Self-identifying, there was no medical criteria whatsoever and it was based on a research project that somebody did with a small group of Disabled people, and they said, “What would make the biggest difference?” They said, “Well, we just want to get out.” So that was the name of the report and the Dial-A-Ride service started from there.

Will McCabe (00:03:03):
What’s your role as director? What’s the [inaudible 00:03:08]?

Meryl Gaskell (00:03:07):
Yeah. It was interesting. The job had two focuses. One was to run the accessible transport services and expand when the company became available, but the other 50% of the role was to campaign for accessible transport on mainstream transport because none of the buses then were accessible at all. So that was quite interesting. So, it had a two-pronged attack really.

Will McCabe (00:03:36):
Were there any other reasons you applied other than curiosity?

Meryl Gaskell (00:03:42):
I knew somebody who used the service, and she was raving about it, and I thought, well, I don’t understand why you need to have a separate service, but hey. Then realizing that public transport wasn’t accessible. I just thought it’d be a bit of a challenge, and I thought well I’ll go there for five years, and I’ll develop this service, and I’ll do a good job and then I’ll go and do something else. It took me 14 years to get a whole citywide service and 15 vehicles that are running.

Will McCabe (00:04:17):
Did you have any support from the council?

Meryl Gaskell (00:04:21):
Yes, Bristol City. Well, it was Avon County then, and then it became Bristol City Council. They gave us grant funding to run that service under a three year service level agreement, and they were actually very supportive. They were very encouraging. I had much funding. I brought funding in from other parts of the country and some European funding, of which they quite liked. Yeah, so they were very supportive. I think our passengers were mostly older people, and we had sort of 5000, 10000, growing number of people and they were very vocal and active in talking to their local councillors about having the service in their area. Of course, they were great voters and everything. So, I think that had something to do with it.

Meryl Gaskell (00:05:18):
And I think also [crosstalk 00:05:19]… Sorry, the movement around Disabled people and having access and all the rest of it was quite strong at that time. There was a real campaigning arm to it and a lot of direct action going on, which I wasn’t involved in, but I think it was bringing the thing to the focus so that people were talking about it more and looking at it more and realizing what the sort of restrictions were. So, I think it was the right time for some of this to be happening.

Will McCabe (00:05:49):
Was there much support from able-bodied people around Bristol?

Meryl Gaskell (00:05:55):
Yes. Yes, I think very much so because everybody’s got a father, a mother, a daughter or whatever and people knew of people and, particularly with older people with mobility difficulties. We had an application form, but it was self-defining. Sometimes we’d say, “Well, why do you need this service?” We used to laugh because it used to come in and say, “It’s just me knees, dear. I can’t get up the step to get into the bus.” But yes, I think we were very fortunate really. As I say, at that time, there was a lot of interest in what we were trying to achieve. Yeah.

Will McCabe (00:06:32):
What was the response of the bus companies?

Meryl Gaskell (00:06:42):
Yeah, they were fine. The transport operators locally weren’t really bothered. I mean they were quite keen actually for us to be doing it, which meant they didn’t have to do it. The funding we got from the city council was peanuts compared to what they got in terms of their supported bus routes. So, they were supported. I remember a meeting, a nationwide one, and I said, “I can increase your ridership by about half a million. If anybody wants to know, come and see me after.” So, they all rushed over, “Ooh, Meryl, Meryl.” So, I said, “All you’ve got to do…” I said it’s not very difficult. I said, “All you’ve got to do is give time for people to get on board, to get to a seat and sit down before you move off, and then have some consideration for that when they get off the bus. That’s all you have to do. For a lot of people, that would be absolutely fine.”

Meryl Gaskell (00:07:45):
Of course, they couldn’t do it because they had schedules, timetables, rushing about. But I think in other ways, we did have an influence. Certainly, advising about accessible issues on buses, they came to talk to us because we were the experts. We had all the latest equipment. We knew all about lifts and ramps and all the rest of it. So, I think we had quite a big impact really.

Will McCabe (00:08:14):
What was involved in the campaigning work that you did?

Meryl Gaskell (00:08:22):
It was really about practical solutions. I wanted to demonstrate in a practical way that some of the things that needed to be done to make accessible transport and environment, weren’t that difficult to achieve. I did write down some examples. So, as well as running the Dial-A-Ride, I’d try and get some money for particular projects. One of them was called health matters and we got some funding, got a couple of accessible cars, made links with a couple of health centres. Southmead and Eastville, they arranged a dedicated parking bay.

Meryl Gaskell (00:09:15):
What was happening at the time, and unfortunately I think now, is that if people get a transport to get to a health appointment, they’re taken sort of really early in the morning. They have their appointment. They have to hang around till later in the day to be picked up because it’s all done on a sort of group basis. Which is really awful if you think about it. I mean it’s bad enough having to go through a health appointment without having to be there for an hour and a half early and then sort of hang about when you finished for anybody.

Meryl Gaskell (00:09:45):
So, what we did was we got the vehicles. We liaised with the health centres. We worked out a sort of system of doing it, and what we were doing is we were picking up individuals or two people if they’re next door, taking them to their health appointments, and then taking them home within half an hour of finishing. It wasn’t that difficult to arrange on a health centre basis. I think for hospitals obviously it’s slightly different, but it wasn’t that difficult by liaising with the health centre staff that we managed to do it. I think we did for about a sort of year’s project, and I think we showed that it was absolutely possible to do that, and actually it wasn’t that expensive to do.

Meryl Gaskell (00:10:28):
Whether it still carries on I don’t know. But we wrote reports about everything we did and widely distributed them. So that went throughout the country. So, I don’t know if it had an impact or not, but I felt like we’d made an inroad into a very simple solution to something that caused a lot of distress for people really. What was the question again?

Effective campaigning

Will McCabe (00:10:55):
What was involved in campaigning?

Meryl Gaskell (00:10:57):
Campaigning, yeah. Another thing that we did was around schoolchildren, transport to special schools they call them. It came to our attention that the children weren’t very happy about it. So again, got some funding. We did a research project. I think one of the things I quite liked to do was involve an awful lot of people. So, on the steering group for that one, it was called the Let’s Go project. We had 24 people I think and that was parents, teachers, drivers, local authority, transport providers, people from the Disability Equality Forum. Anybody we could think of to come in and listen and learn really. So not everybody could come to every meeting, obviously, but I think that was quite a really good way to work, and we had the city council’s education inclusion officer at the time who was brilliant.

Meryl Gaskell (00:11:58):
What we did is that we interviewed the teachers, the parents, the transport providers, the drivers, the escorts, but we were the first in the country to actually ask the children. So, we had a Disabled facilitator set up little groups and it was just her and a little group of people. No other adults present. No adults present, and really asked what they thought about it, and they really gave their views. It was absolutely brilliant actually. I mean really, really good stuff. We did a report to feedback to the city council, and from it some of the recommendations were taken on board and actually made it a bit better for them. I mean they were on the bus for hours. The drivers were smoking. I mean all sorts of things going on, and they were, again, quite easy to remedy, but nobody thought to ask the children. I can’t understand it.

Meryl Gaskell (00:13:02):
One of the things I think about campaigning, going off on a tangent a bit, is that we always must celebrate what we’re doing and celebrate our achievements. They may not be huge, but they must be sort of embraced as we go along so that we don’t forget what we did. Particularly for the schools’ project, we said we’d hold a seminar with all the results and invited everybody along. So that was local councilors, it was the head of education, the transport providers, all sorts of people, the parents and some… But mostly quite a lot of the children.

Meryl Gaskell (00:13:41):
So of course, they’ve all sat there. Oh, what are they going to say, what’s going to happen? So, we said, right okay, well we’ll introduce the seminar, and they’re usually quite dry and sort of very reading reports. So, I said, “Right, okay. Well, we’ll hand over to the children.” So, they’ve been practicing for ages, and they set up chairs like a little bus, and one of the children act as the driver and the escort in helping people on, get to their seats. So, they’ve all sat there, and then they sang a song. It was to Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. It was absolutely brilliant because the chorus was, “Hey, you, sort my transport out.” It went down so well, and we had a kiddie’s tea party. So, we had little cakes with Smarties on and all that sort of thing.

Meryl Gaskell (00:14:31):
So, in a very sort of humorous, nice, light way, we actually got the message across, I think. Actually, again, that report was used… Well, we sent it to a lot of other education authorities as well to try and make some improvements. Those reports are available and I can put them on the archive at some point, if that would be helpful. But that’s my way of campaigning is to actually sort of do it in a lighthearted way if possible, include lots of people. You can change hearts and minds just by chatting without making it sort of heavy duty, for me anyway. That’s the sort of things I was doing.

Disabled Living Centre research

Meryl Gaskell (00:15:12):
There was also a research project. I’ve got one more. One more. Sorry I’m going on. Around equipment when I was working for the Disabled Living Centre, and there was a research project looking at how Disabled people could get involved in designing the equipment that was going to be available. So, this was quite new. Everybody was coming up with bright ideas; oh, we’ll do this, we’ll do that. Some of them totally unsuitable, but nobody had thought to ask, again, the Disabled people themselves. So that was actually a national project that we were involved in. It was how could Disabled people engage with innovators and designers to come up with some useful products, new products. Of course, by that time, it was including use of new technologies. That was about a six month project, but interesting enough, it was taken forward, and they did encourage some Disabled people to work with them to develop some new equipment.

Meryl Gaskell (00:16:21):
It was really well funded. The people were paid to come and do the consultation and there was a system of paying them to be involved in that, again, which is quite new, isn’t that awful, in designing equipment. So. I think, again, it was a sort of demonstration of how things could be better really. Yeah. I’ll stop there.

Will McCabe (00:16:44):
Did you notice if there were any particular areas that needed or benefited from the Bristol Dial-A-Ride service more than others?

Meryl Gaskell (00:16:51):
Any areas? Don’t know. Repeat the question. What…

Impact of Dial-A-Ride

Will McCabe (00:17:02):
Was there any particularly sort of local areas of Bristol, communities that have benefited from the Bristol Dial-A-Ride more than others?

Meryl Gaskell (00:17:15):
Okay, it was funded by a ward-by-ward basis, and there was 36 wards in Bristol at the time. They funded three, and then it was five, and then gradually there was more and more until we did get the citywide service. But, I mean, it was about people just leading ordinary lives really, about being able to get to the shops, being able to go and visit friends. I mean to go to park. I mean all sorts of things that some people take as for granted. Disabled people can’t do if they don’t have the transport to get there. So, I mean certainly it benefited an awful lot of people in Bristol, and, as I say, I think it had a wider impact on their local communities.

Chief Executive of Disabled Living Centre

Will McCabe (00:18:08):
So, moving on, what was the Bristol Disabled Living Centre exactly?

Meryl Gaskell (00:18:23):
Okay. [inaudible 00:18:25] over the page. Yeah. So, the Bristol Disabled Living Centre was based at the Vassall Centre in Fishponds, but it’s no longer there. It started in 1993, some 10 years before I became the chief exec in 2007. What it was is that a demonstration of all sorts of equipment and aids that were available at the time, open display. So, there was a kitchen, a whole bathroom setup, sitting rooms, anything you can think of. All the equipment was there in different areas, including mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs and all sorts of other equipment that people could come in for free, try it out, try out different ones, have the help of an occupational therapist if they needed that so that they could decide for themselves what would be the best thing for them to get. Then we’d advise them where they could buy it.

Meryl Gaskell (00:19:35):
If you’ve got to remember, this was in the age before this sort of equipment was available in the regular shops. So, there were no specialist shops. There was no internet shopping, and it was very much in its infancy really about what was available. So yeah, that’s what we did. Yeah, of course you can get it in the supermarkets now but then you couldn’t. And to try it out before you buy was quite important as well to make sure it was the right thing. But they were set up all over the country. The Bristol one was the only one that was set up by Disabled people. The rest were all sort of professionals setting them up, but they all had the same sort of function. I was there for about seven years until I retired.

Will McCabe (00:20:31):
Okay. Why did you join or work with the Disabled Living Centre?

Meryl Gaskell (00:20:43):
Right, okay. The Dial-A-Ride was in the Vassall Centre. Disabled Living Centre was just down the corridor in the Vassall Centre. I’d done 14 years with Dial-A-Ride. I got it as a citywide service, which is what I planned to do originally, and I felt I was coming to the end of my time. I was beginning to feel a bit frustrated because I do like my projects, I do like to expand things and the Dial-A-Ride were just sort of ticking over by then. I thought, oh no, I think I probably fancy a change. The job came up down the corridor. I live about 10 minutes away and it was also another Disabled led organization, and I knew quite a few of the committee and people already. It just seemed like a natural progression.

Meryl Gaskell (00:21:36):
At that time, it was going very well. I mean it was a bit under threat in terms of funding, but it was a very well used service. I just thought it was just an around-all to the practical side of things that I like to do really.

Will McCabe (00:21:56):
How did it change during your time as director?

Meryl Gaskell (00:22:02):
Yes, well we expanded. We got some more bits of the premises. Yes, it was sort of ticking over. I think how it changed really was that it was no longer needed. I mean what became more and more clear was that people could go to a specialist shop, they could get it off the internet, and more and more it seemed to be that the family members were coming in to buy it for mum or whatever, and we were saying, “Oh, bring, Mum. She’s not…” But actually, it just ran out of steam I think, which is good because it’s great that people can just pop in a supermarket and get what they need rather than having to make an appointment and come to a specialist place to do it. So, the evolution of that one is that it’s not there anymore.

Impact of Disabled Living Centre

Will McCabe (00:22:57):
What was the impact of the Disabled Living Centre?

Meryl Gaskell (00:23:06):
As I say, when it started there wasn’t anywhere that you could go to find equipment. I think an awful lot of people… I mean again we’re talking, I don’t know, 50000 people who got the sort of stuff that they needed so that they could live independently at home, which is the main thing really, isn’t it, that people can have that freedom to cook their own dinners and have a shower because you’ve got a stool in it and all the rest of it that makes life more bearable really.

Bristol Disability Equality Forum

Will McCabe (00:23:43):
When did you first get involved with the Bristol Disability Equality Forum?

Meryl Gaskell (00:23:47):
That was when I was at Dial-A-Ride and that must have been… I’m trying to think when. 2002 to 2006 I think it was. I can’t think we had a paid worker at the time. I think the committee did all the work, but I’m not 100% about that. It was a sort of natural progression in terms of lobbying for accessible transport and building and all the rest of it. I really enjoyed that. It worked very closely with the city council over all sorts of different things they were doing. They were licensing accessible taxis that weren’t really accessible. So could get in there and make improvements to that. There was a big consultation around the city centre before we had all the fountains and the cascade steps.

Meryl Gaskell (00:24:44):
In retrospect, we could have made it better, but we gave the advice that we thought, we sort of did what we could. Some bits they listened to and some bits they didn’t. But I still think it was worthwhile to do that, and I think what it does is that it highlights the issues of Disabled people. In terms of city council offices and the councillors, it’s just a bit of information and awareness we’re trying to promote really so that it’s not just for the particular project we’re working on, but hopefully they carry that through to other areas of the work that they were doing. I enjoyed it.

Will McCabe (00:25:30):
More specifically, what was your work within the forum?

Meryl Gaskell (00:25:35):
I was a committee member, and then I became co-chair. So, of course, we were sort of… No, I must have had staff. I can’t remember now. Can’t remember. [crosstalk 00:25:56] I’ll have a think.

Will McCabe (00:25:58):
How has the Forum evolved over time?

Meryl Gaskell (00:26:01):
The Forum?

Will McCabe (00:26:03):
Yes.

Meryl Gaskell (00:26:03):
Well, I haven’t really been involved since then. So, I’m not sure. I mean I think they’ve got a very good manager there now who does an awful lot of good work, but really I’m not involved with them now. So, this was back in 2006. So, I’m sure it’s developed and grown and has huge influence now, but I’m not part of that.

Will McCabe (00:26:35):
Sorry, my laptop has become unplugged.

Meryl Gaskell (00:26:35):
Okay.

Will McCabe (00:26:45):
Sorry, my laptop charger became uncharged, so it was running out of charge.

Meryl Gaskell (00:26:51):
Okay. You back on [crosstalk 00:26:54]?

Positive experiences

Will McCabe (00:26:56):
What was some positive experiences you had during your work?

Meryl Gaskell (00:27:02):
Right, okay. What did I [inaudible 00:27:07]. I think sort of, like with Dial-A-Ride, it was by the end, I’d sort of got, I don’t know, what was it, £7 billion worth of funding. We’d carried over half a million Disabled passenger journeys, but behind that was all those people who could get out and be a bit more independent and get their own shopping and go where they wanted to go. I think that’s the good thing about is that without that service, those people would be stuck at home like perhaps people are in lockdown now, but it was huge at the time. I think it is important that that’s still remembered really. So, I’m glad I had a part to play in that.

Meryl Gaskell (00:28:05):
I think sort of by the involvement of Disabled people in various different campaigns and the different work that goes on, the legislations changed. Some of the legislations changed. Some things are more accessible than they used to be, and I feel I had a part in that. So yeah. Yeah.

Will McCabe (00:28:29):
Did you do any other work in promoting accessibility in transport?

Meryl Gaskell (00:28:36):
No. No, not really.

Negative experiences

Will McCabe (00:28:37):
Okay. Were there any negative experiences?

Meryl Gaskell (00:28:46):
Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t think negative, but very frustrating that everything took so long and was on the whim of whichever local authority you were working with. No, I can’t think really. I know when I was fundraising, I’d fundraise for all the minibuses and replacement ones. There was one of them and it took me either 42 different funders to put money in to buy one bus. That was just huge, and it was partly because the committee said they didn’t want any logos on the buses. So, no sort of sponsorship thing. Of course, most of the people that want to give you money, including the lottery, help the aged, whatever it is, they all want to have their stamp on things, and that was frustrating because it was really, really hard to get money to get the new vehicles. But frustrating I think rather than anything else.

Meryl Gaskell (00:30:02):
I mean, excuse me, one of the things when I first started with Dial-A-Ride is that the legislation at the time said that because you were carrying Disabled people, you had to have ambulance in big letters on the side of the bus. Well, there was no way we were going to do that. So just ignored it. Then one day somebody did ask me about it, and I said, “Well, we did do it.” I said, “It’s in big yellow letters on the side of the bus. Look, it’s just there.” I said, “But then we went and painted the rest of the bus yellow to match.” But that’s the sort of… The frustration was the legislation of it. The nonsense around Disabled people’s travel I suppose, which I hope has gone now.

Bristol and the wider national movement

Will McCabe (00:30:52):
How did your work in Bristol relate to the wider national movement?

Meryl Gaskell (00:31:05):
That’s a good question. [inaudible 00:31:05] I think it’s back to that thing about running the practical projects to demonstrate how things could be improved in terms of transport for Disabled people. The Let’s Go project and the Health Matters project, and, as I say, at the end the reports were widely distributed. We had a, pardon me, national body of transport provision and I did articles in newspaper and letters and things. Just tried to get the word out there I suppose. So, I think it probably did have some sort of impact.

Will McCabe (00:31:56):
Did your work as a Disability activist relate to other movements for social change at the time?

Meryl Gaskell (00:32:23):
Ooh. [inaudible 00:32:23] Oh. Let me see if I’ve got something here I can… Well, I think it was just generally that transport tended to be a very male dominated world, and certainly with transport officers, transport providers and I was always mixing with men, and I was, quite often, the only woman around the table. But I hope that, and I think it has, made an impact in particularly Bristol where it’s encouraged other women to get involved at a higher level in transport issues and transport work really. So, I think that was one thing. Did I think of something else?

Meryl Gaskell (00:33:21):
Oh, there was the thing about… Yes. Well, about green issues. Again, when I was at Dial-A-Ride, I was a partner with Bristol City Council and four European cities, a project called VIVALDI. This, again, was in the early 2000s and we were looking at green fueled vehicles. We were looking at satellite tracking which hadn’t been heard of then. We were a very small part of the project, but we investigated green fuels. We opted for LPG, which is the gas/petrol. The electrics were quite clumsy at the time and the batteries were huge and they didn’t charge for very long. So, we opted for LPG. We got two accessible minibuses. In fact, we got the first one that rolled off the Mercedes production line that ever came out.

Meryl Gaskell (00:34:23):
So, we had those two and we also were piloting some satellite tracking and a new computer booking system. It wasn’t without its glitches, but it was quite exciting to be involved at that point in sort of, what’s it called? Greener fuels for a cleaner Bristol, and I think Bristol actually invested in a few vehicles at the time as well. They’ve gone electric now I think. Yeah, it was very exciting. The sat nav wasn’t too bad. It was about, ooh, I don’t know. It came from the lamppost on the corner rather than to our actual premises, but it’s not bad for a starting point really.

Meryl Gaskell (00:35:07):
So yeah, there were lots of hiccups and it made running the service with those two particular vehicles a bit difficult, but I’m glad we did it and we did a four-year project. Then of course, we were able to keep the vehicles and the computer equipment. So, that was great. Of course, it’s commonplace now.

Led by Disabled people

Will McCabe (00:35:31):
Why is having Disabled organizations led by Disabled people so important in your opinion?

Meryl Gaskell (00:35:51):
I think it’s the perspective, it’s the expertise, it’s the lived experience. It just enhances anything that you’re doing I think. It gives a quality to it. If it’s services for other Disabled people, from that perspective, then it’s just going to… Well, my experience is that it just makes it a much better quality service and has a much more, I don’t know, relevance I suppose. There should be more of them. I think it’s great. I mean we had a lot of criticism because the management committee, the people who managed Dial-A-Ride were all passengers. They were all passengers. They were all users of the service, and people were saying, “Well, they can’t run the service.” Well, they didn’t do bad, did they, with £7 million coming in, were they?

Will McCabe (00:36:52):
Did you see any change in the way that people treated Disabled people as a result of having to actually work with them?

Meryl Gaskell (00:37:05):
I think so. I think so. I think very early on, I went to a meeting at the council house, as it was then City Hall. I went with the chair of my committee and she was a wheelchair user. She’s actually sort of over six feet tall when she stands up, but she’s a wheelchair user. One of the councillors patted her on the head. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, my god. She was a professional woman in her right. So over the course of time, I think we got away from that sort of patronizing attitude and I think people respected who they were talking to much more really. Yeah.

Will McCabe (00:37:56):
Did you see a change in the sort of self-perceived, particularly with the schools’ project, is the Disabled children as a result of being listened to and respected?

Meryl Gaskell (00:38:09):
Yes. Well, I think the ones who came really enjoyed the seminar because they could actually say to the people who organized their transport and the city council who pay for it, they could actually say to them, “Hey, you, sort my transport out.” I mean they were very clear about that, and they were all kids with physical impairments and learning difficulties. Well I think they felt quite empowered by that. I think that was a pretty special thing for them to be doing really. Rather than everybody speaking for them and parents and teachers and everybody else just saying what they think, the kids actually said for themselves what they thought. I thought that was a brilliant question.

Social Model

Will McCabe (00:38:54):
Did you ever use any sort of theories around Disability such as the social model?

Meryl Gaskell (00:39:03):
Yeah. That was central to all the work that I was involved in from Dial-A-Ride onwards really. So the, again with Dial-A-Ride, all committee members, all the staff were all Disabled people. That was a fundamental thing about the way it was run, and so it had to be Disability led to provide service for other Disabled people. [inaudible 00:39:34] absolutely on the ball, really. So yes, that was the social model in action and, again, the Disabled Living Centre, it started out the same and it changed slightly over the years but it was the same to begin with. Which was a new thing at the time, and I hope it’s more mainstreamed now, but it was very new at the time.

Meryl Gaskell (00:40:04):
The idea that it wasn’t your impairments that stopped you. It was the way that society was constructed. It was the way that the buses were inaccessible. It was the way that you couldn’t get into buildings. I mean, nonsense.

Will McCabe (00:40:16):
What were some of the biggest achievements that came from your work?

Meryl Gaskell (00:40:40):
Again, I think I’m really proud about the work that I did with Dial-A-Ride. As I say, going from a very small organization to, I don’t know, a medium sized one in terms of providing a whole service across the whole city to… I mean I don’t know, how many thousands of people that we helped to get out and about. I’m very proud of that because without that, they wouldn’t have been able to and it’s still going, which is great. Also, I think it rubbed off. I think the people who used the services became more vocal and talking about their rights and expecting their support needs to be met. So I think it wasn’t just about the transport. It was about influencing the way that people thought about the world and thought about things. So I think that was quite good really.

Meryl Gaskell (00:41:50):
I mean, you know, the Disabled people’s movement was incredibly supportive. I mean it was very, very active in Bristol. There were a lot of other things going on, but we were all very supportive of each other and encouraging and there was some overlapping in some of the things that we were doing, and a lot of celebrating. A lot of fun. So I think whatever you’re doing, there has to be an element of that. I mean you have to enjoy the moments that you can, and, as I say, celebrate every achievement along the way.

Will McCabe (00:42:31):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). How important was the idea of inclusivity of not needing a medical diagnosis and what impact did that have?

Meryl Gaskell (00:42:39):
Yeah. I mean I think they still do it now for sort of being on rides and Dial-A-Rides that you have to have a medical reason why. We just said that transport was inaccessible and self-defining. You say you need it, you need it. I’m not going to query. And who’s to say, I mean I’ve had this argument quite a few times, who’s to say that somebody says “Well, I’ve got a hip replacement and I can’t do this, that and the other.” Well, some people with hip replacements are running marathons. I mean there’s no rhyme or reason to it, but it’s just sort of a hangover from the old days when Disabled people were classed as sort of medical conditions rather than people.

Meryl Gaskell (00:43:24):
Yeah. So we just said if you want to use it, you use it. We got a lot of stick for that, but I don’t think there were very many… There was about two cases of people that we thought probably weren’t playing the game, but that was out of thousands, absolutely thousands. Look, in the old days, I don’t know how it works now, but would you sit by the phone in the… Because it was first come, first served. Would you sit by your phone and have to try and get through to an engaged tone on and on until you get through, and then you’re booking up for going out next Wednesday at half past 10? I mean would you bother to do that if you can go and get on a bus? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. So I think it was self-regulating in some way.

The future

Will McCabe (00:44:20):
What are some things that you think are important for newer Disabled activists going forward?

Meryl Gaskell (00:44:25):
Important for newer? I think there’s an awful lot more to be done, yeah. We’re on a continuum. It’s not stopped yet. A lot to be done and there will be going forwards. So it’s important that there are new people coming through who are activists in the field really, and to push the social model agenda. And organizations, like Bristol Disability Equality Forum are there to support, to nurture this growth and they can provide a coordination role and help people to work together and let’s say move things on in all sorts of different areas. I mean I am just involved with mainly the transport side of things, but there’s so many different areas that need looking at and working on.

Meryl Gaskell (00:45:35):
It’s sort of challenging, oops, the city council to ensure the quality of access to all the services. So good on you. Do it.

Wrapping up

Will McCabe (00:45:55):
Is there anything else you wish to say that we haven’t covered?

Meryl Gaskell (00:45:59):
We’ve done pretty well. Great questions, Will. No, I think that’s not bad. That’s not bad at all. Thank you.

Will McCabe (00:46:22):
Okay. So I think that’s it for my questions.

Meryl Gaskell (00:46:23):
Phew. Well done you.

Will McCabe (00:46:26):
But I think we can stop recording and then we can go over the consent forms and sign-

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