The roots of SDEF go back to a conference, “The Empowerment of Disabled People” held in September 1995 at Erskine. This was attended by three hundred people, including service users and representatives of service providers and local authorities.
In December 1995, two members of the Kilmarnock Forum, who were also office bearers of Strathclyde Forum on Disability, wrote to around five hundred organisations floating the idea of an all Scotland disability group.
Interest was sparked amongst a number of groups and a Steering Group formed involving: the Lothian Coalition of Disabled People; Aberdeen Action on Disability, Disability Alliance in the Scottish Highlands, Nithsdale Coalition of Disabled People, Stewartry Coalition of Disabled People, Dunfermline Forum on Disability and Strathclyde Forum on Disability.
The Steering Group worked during 1996, gaining the support of the then Scottish Office for an inaugural meeting to establish a national forum on disability, with the strong suggestion that Disability Scotland should become involved to provide ongoing support.
The first meeting was held at Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, with the kind permission of Sam Galbraith, Minister for Health and Arts, on Wednesday 5th November 1997. Around seventy delegates attended from all over Scotland, the majority concluding that: a new Steering Group be elected to carry the work forward; the constitution of the organisation should be refined and; Disability Scotland should provide the secretariat and support.
There was a unanimous mandate, from the disability groups which responded, to see a Scottish Forum established. At a meeting in Glasgow in November 1999 an interim committee was formed to consider membership and to arrange a further meeting in Edinburgh in March 2000. Miss Elma Mitchell MBE was elected Convenor, a post she held until her untimely death in March 2004.
During 2000, Disability Scotland ceased to exist and it was only with the determination, commitment and financial input of the committee that the venture continued. There was also an appeal to members for small donations, but it was clear that more structured support from the Scottish Executive would be required.
In early 2001 Elma Mitchell arranged administrative support with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). In July that year charitable status with the Inland Revenue was granted, and on the same day 9th July 2001, an AGM, with the title “Including Us All”, was held at the Dunblane Hydro.
Funding was received from the Scottish Executive’s Equality Unit in 2003 and the organisation became a Company Limited by Guarantee in February that year.
During 2003, SDEF was elected the umbrella body for Access Panels and in 2004 received further grant assistance from the Scottish Executive’s Community Care Division to carry out the work.
For much of the long period in reaching where we are today, the effort was provided by dedicated people who gave of their time, without any aim besides establishing an organisation to be of service to people with disabilities in Scotland. In particular, much of the drive came from our late Convenor Elma Mitchell MBE, who sadly died just as we were becoming the umbrella body for Access Panels, a cause for which she had striven for years. The award by the Scottish Executive of £500,000 for Access Panels was announced less than two weeks before she passed away and served as a fitting tribute to her efforts.
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