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10 minutes with… Jackie Kennedy,
Disability Campaigner at Real

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Jackie and Kingston on a recent trip to Blackpool

 

We meet Jackie, a resident from Teviot over a cup of tea at the Teviot Café, for a chat about her thoughts on the East End and her achievements campaigning for disability rights.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’ve lived in Poplar for four and a half years, born and bred in London and I’ve always lived in the East End. The East End has always had a good community and togetherness, other places people don’t seem to care about each other. The East End is the heart of London and has been for centuries, Jewish refugees built it. There’s so much richness in Tower Hamlets – it’s about what people bring to the area. I always feel safe here.

What campaigning work and volunteering have you been involved with?

I acquired a disability in 2007. When I became a full time wheelchair user in 2010, I realised how much ignorance there was around how disabled people are treated and the services you could get. From these experiences I decided to join Real (based at Jack Dash House), I went to project meetings about accessible transport and housing. I wanted to make my life and the lives of other people easier.

I’ve done campaigning for drop curbs on pavements – they are not just for disability, but people with prams, seniors. Shops are not always accessible, what you need may be on another floor, with no lift. Also, housing – people may be stuck on the 20th floor, some housing says it’s accessible but it’s not.

I’ve been to Parliament to get access for assistance dogs – sometimes they are not allowed in shops or taxis (they think only guide dogs are allowed). Disabled people are treated as second class citizens, people may think you’re a benefit scrounger or ‘got an easy life’. It’s people’s perception – sometimes people talk to my friends not me, like giving change in a shop to them rather than me. I want to change the perception of disabled people. It can take hours to get on a bus and lots of train stations aren’t accessible.

Other campaigning I’ve been involved in includes disability hate crime, working with Inclusion London, to teach disabled people they don’t have to accept it. There was a 500% rise in reported crimes following this. I want people to step forward, see this is wrong. I want to go into schools with Kingston (my assistance dog) to teach young people about it.

Who is Kingston?

Kingston (a beautiful black Labrador stands up to attention enthusiastically on hearing his name..) is a 2 year old working Labrador, from the charity Canine Partners, who train dogs for people with a severe disability. Kingston is trained to pick up objects, load and unload washing machine, open doors, help with dressing, shopping and pushing the button at pedestrian lights.

Before Kingston, I didn’t go out a lot, now we always are. He’s an ice breaker, people ask questions and talk to us. Kingston won an award from PDSA for saving my life last year.

It takes an 18 month period to train dogs and costs £20,000, there’s no government funding, all donations. We’re going to Canada Place (in Canary Wharf) doing demonstrations with the dogs next week to raise money.

People always ask ‘Where’s Kingston’ if I go out without him.

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When campaigning, can you tell us about a time when you were really pleased with the outcome or change it made?

Recently with Real, a big accessibility transport one with the DLR – which is perceived to be disabled friendly. Wheels on wheelchairs were falling between the trains and the track. We did lots of filming and ground work, listening to people about getting on and off and disabled places. Out of 30 issues raised with TFL, 26 are promised to be sorted out.

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Kingston with Beefeaters at the Tower of London, doing a disability access audit

 

Do you have any advice for people who want to make a change through campaigning?

They need to believe in themselves – lots of people think they can’t make a difference. You need to step forward and people will follow. They think their voice is too small but you feel very empowered if listened to. At an NHS England conference I presented, people listened to views on care planning.

Have courage to go forward and put views across – results will happen and you can’t rely on anyone else to make it happen.

What do you love about Poplar?

We’re lucky we have got diversity, everyone gets along, it’s a rich area and mixed. It feels like home – as soon as I come back and see Canary Wharf in the distance I can’t wait to get back into Poplar. Everyone is friendly and our landlord (Poplar Harca) is fantastic. I love the area, the people are great.

To find out more about Real and Canine Partners or to make a donation, please visit: