Hi, I’m Megan, and I’m the project intern for I Am Me Scotland!
I Am Me Scotland is a Renfrewshire community group founded to tackle and raise awareness of disability hate crime. Disability hate crimes are among the most underreported hate crimes, with 97% suspected of going unreported.
The project has two key initiatives; I Am Me, and Keep Safe.
We have worked in partnership with Police Scotland to develop the Keep Safe initiative. Keep Safe is the first of its kind in Scotland, and aims to support and encourage disabled, vulnerable and older people to keep safe and enjoy activities and day to day life without fear of abuse, intimidation and harassment. The initiative works with a network of local shops and businesses to create safe places for disabled, vulnerable or older people to go if they need help, if they are lost, scared or if they are the victim of crime. Disabled, vulnerable, or older people are offered a Keep Safe Card which they can carry that includes information about themselves and people who can be contacted in an emergency.
There are currently 36,000 people registered as disabled or with a long term illness in Renfrewshire alone (1 million across Scotland). We currently have 43 Keep Safe premises throughout the Renfrewshire area, with other local authorities beginning to roll the initiative our in their areas across Scotland. Keep Safe premises are widely recognised as friendly and safe places to be, with sensitive and helpful staff.
My job when working on Keep Safe is to approach businesses to become Keep Safe premises, which not only benefits the local community, but enables the participating business to tap into the £80bn ‘purple pound’. I also liaise with existing Keep Safe premises to monitor any incidents, and to provide any further information or training on Keep Safe. In addition to increasing the network of businesses, I also work with disability groups, health centres, and GP surgeries, to distribute Keep Safe cards, and I assist Police Scotland to deliver awareness raising sessions on disability hate crime and Keep Safe.
Prior to the I Am Me project, there was only 1 reported disability hate crime in Renfrewshire (see table), but since the project commenced, this number has risen to 6 reported disability hate crimes in 2013/14. While this number is still relatively small, it is a huge increase in one of the most underreported hate crimes in Scotland. The figures for reported disability hate crimes are expected to be on the same level as that of racial hate crimes, however, only 138 disability hate crimes were reported to the Police in 2012/13, in comparison to the 4012 racial hate crimes reported in the same year. Since the I Am Me project began, reported disability hate crimes for Scotland have increased to 154 in 2013/14. This means that in the increase from 138 to 154, 6 of those came from Renfrewshire; meaning that hopefully our initiative is working. We view the increase in reported disability hate crimes as a positive thing, as it shows that more people at taking a stand, and not simply accepting it as a way of life.
|Reported Disability Hate Crimes in Renfrewshire||1||6|
|Reported Disability Hate Crimes in Scotland (according to COPFS)||138||154|
|Reported Racial Hate Crimes in Scotland (according to COPFS)||4012||4148|
I Am Me
In addition to working with Police Scotland, we have worked in partnership with PACE Theatre Company to develop two hard hitting and awareness raising plays; one that is delivered to primary schools, and the other to high schools, training groups, the police, councils, and disability groups. ‘I Am Me’ is the title of both plays, and each follows the story of a young man with a disability. The more mature play is followed by a talk from Police Scotland on the repercussions of committing disability hate crimes, and so far has been extremely positively received with 97.6% of high school pupils surveyed in 2013 stating that the play has been successful in raising awareness of disability hate crime. The performances have received many plaudits and were booked to tour across Scotland in 2014. The primary school play is a softer version, developed specifically for children of school age p5-7, with an engaging workshop afterwards to raise awareness of the effects of disability bullying.
We are currently touring the primary school play again this year and it has been offered to all 49 primary schools in Renfrewshire; with the high school tour to begin again in March. So far the surveys we have received back from the primary school pupils have been really engaging and positive in terms of changing attitudes and raising awareness of disability bullying, with the majority of pupils saying that the play has changed their opinion on disabilities.
The community group began in 2013, and are currently working on a DVD and training pack to use in any school or group across Scotland. Both the DVD and the pack have been endorsed by the Chief Constable and the Lord Advocate.
After this, the community group will be seeking funding to develop a Keep Safe app, meaning service users could use the app as a Keep Safe card, and to find safer routes and nearby Keep Safe premises. This would be greatly beneficial to our service users to enable them to live a life free of harassment, but also to Keep Safe premises as it would mean they were easily identified as friendly environments within the community with caring and helpful staff.
I’ve only been here 4 weeks but so far I love it, as disability hate is a subject quite close to my heart. Disabilities saturate my family, with my Dad recently being recognized as disabled after a bad leg break over a year ago resulted in him being unable to walk unaided indefinitely – facing a possible amputation. But my grandparents are my world, and all of them happen to be disabled too. It used to anger me when I thought that people were taking advantage of them and their nice nature, or when people laughed at them (and by association, me); but this role has enabled me to channel my anger and passion towards a positive outcome. The I Am Me play addresses young people in schools at a crucial age, as the average disability hate crime offender was found to be just 21 years old in a report by EHRC – Hidden in Plain Sight in September of 2011. School children can be relentlessly cruel, usually unaware of or ignorant to the effects of their actions. I remember being 14 years old, and being made to feel worthless in my local shopping centre while out with my Gran one Saturday. I noticed some people from my school, who quickly pointed, laughed, and shouted at us, simply because my wee Gran had previously had a stroke which left her sometimes unable to control her facial expressions and needing a wheelchair to get about. I wanted to tell them that what they were saying and how they were acting was ridiculously unacceptable. I wish the I Am Me play had been about then! Then they would know and I would know, that it wasn’t acceptable or just something to ignore and get on with. Maybe it wouldn’t have even happened at all. I was livid and humiliated, but there was nothing I could do, and there was no where I could take my Gran for assistance. That’s also why I think Keep Safe is such a great idea; if the initiative had been about 9 years ago we could’ve went into a participating shop for assistance, and if that shopping centre had been a part of Keep Safe I would’ve felt more confident to approach security staff to alert them of what was going on. I would’ve known that I would have been taken seriously, and I would’ve felt confident enough to approach someone for help because I would’ve known that the shopping centre staff were in unity against such behaviour. But while this is something that happened 9 years ago, there’s still something I can do about it now. Keep Safe and I Am Me are challenging and changing attitudes towards disabilities, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it!
Get in contact!