‘Northern Ireland is the safest place to be if you are an unborn baby who has a disability… and in terms of Brexit I’m glad Arlene Foster is holding firm to get the best deal’ – Belfast Telegraph

Lord Kevin Shinkwin (Baron Shinkwin) is one of the UK’s foremost campaigners for the rights of the disabled. In 2015, at the age of 44, he was introduced to the Lords, where he sits as a Conservative. Previously he’d worked in the voluntary sector. As a peer he has used his position to work tirelessly to highlight disability equality issues.

A man of enormous courage and principle, his understanding of the challenges the disabled face comes from personal experience. Born with brittle bone disease, he spent much of his childhood in hospital. Although he stresses he does not take a position on abortion itself, he describes Britain’s abortion laws – which allow abortions for foetal abnormality after the 24-week deadline – as “a licence to kill for the crime of being disabled”.

Here he talks about the prejudice still faced by disabled people. And he pays tribute to the loving parents and the brilliant doctor who ensured that he was not denied opportunities. “I was very blessed to be surrounded by brilliance, by love and by, particularly from my mum, a culture of aspiration that disabled people are still denied in many cases.”

Q. Shinkwin – that’s an unusual name. Where do your family come from originally?

A. It’s actually from the Republic of Ireland. It’s the Irish version of the Welsh name Jenkins. My family came from Ireland relatively recently, within the last few generations.

Q. Your dad John taught physics at Ratcliffe College (the well-known independent Catholic school in Leicester).

A. He was head of science. And my mum Maggie was on the staff as well. It ended up that I went to private school because I was in fact chucked out of the state system because of my disability. I got a scholarship and my parents were on the staff so they didn’t actually have to pay anything until I was in the sixth form, and even then it was much reduced.

It wasn’t because we were rich that I was at the school. It was because the doctors had said to my parents: “That boy has to carry on walking.” And at the state schools in the UK, the main man said: “We want him in his chair. He can’t be allowed to walk in the school.” And so my poor parents had to make the choice. And they made huge sacrifices for me to ensure I got the education I got. Without the education – because we’re talking about the 1970s/1980s – I just wouldn’t have had any opportunities at all.

Q. You were diagnosed at birth with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). How difficult was your childhood?

A. I was born with a broken leg, which is how they knew. Difficult? Yeah, it was. I spent much of the first 10 years of my life in a hospital bed or in plaster. I had over 40 fractures in that period, mainly of my legs. There was one year when I spent both my birthday, which is in June, and Christmas in traction on the children’s ward. My mum was amazing. There wasn’t a day that would pass when she wouldn’t come in and spend time with me by my bed.

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