Gillian Hunter (Vice Chair)

Gill Hunter

Gill Hunter is our Vice Chair.

What inspired you to apply to be a Trustee of Disability North?

From the lived experienced gained from having a disabled son, I have learnt so much abouthow much built in institutionalized prejudice and discrimination there is against people with disabilities, how people with disabilities are stereotyped and marginalized and how poor the support available can be and how difficult that support can be to access, particularly whereneurodiversity is a factor. I wanted to be part of an organization such as Disability North that is trying to move the dial and change things at all levels to provide better understanding and support for issues that affect disabled people.

One of the programmes I am particularly impressed by is the Independent Living programme. Disability North is one of the only organisations that focusses on meaningful and direct support for people with disabilities in this area.

I own and manage a law firm and am currently running a change programme within my own business to address the current barriers to entry into the legal profession from a diversity perspective. We are aiming to create a stronger business through diversity and equitable access to our services and roles within our business for all. One of our key areas of focus this year is ensuring we are accessible to people with disabilities and that our people have an understanding of the issues faced by people with disabilities and are confident in talking about those issues in an appropriate way – a role within Disability North would provide great insight into best practice.

I am a Geordie born and bred and I am passionate about the North East and would see this as an opportunity to contribute to the success of an organization that is strengthening and supporting the community that has supported me.

In your view, what are the biggest issues currently facing disabled people in the North East?

The issues facing disabled people in the North East are much more severe than in many parts of the country. The statistics tell a worrying story – much worse health outcomes, a large pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people and a lower social care spend. I am not an expert and can only speak from my direct experience, but the following are consistently talked about within my contacts:

– Access to services and information – getting what is needed in a form and in a manner that is appropriate.
– Access to support, including financial support. It is difficult to source information on what benefits and support are available and the application process is often complex and convoluted and can take a significant amount of time to secure the entitlements.
– Access to jobs. There are many highly qualified and knowledgeable people with disabilities, who simply don’t get jobs as there is no equity in the application process and employers are reluctant to implement adjustments or don’t take the time to understand what adjustments could be made to ensure their workplaces are inclusive. There are too many businesses that approach inclusivity and diversity as a tick-box exercise rather than really seeking to create equity of opportunity.
– There is a lack of understanding and fear about disability – people and specific disabilities are reduced to stereotypes and a one size fits all approach is adopted by many non disabled people. However, this is coupled with the impact of social media and fake news – people think they are really well educated about all sorts of issues, but much is based on misinformation and false assumption.

What skills and values are you bringing to your trustee role at Disability North?

I am a qualified lawyer with over 25 years’ experience and a great network, so should be able to find an answer on most legal issues!

I have acted as an Academy Council member on an educational trust previously and have held a number of non executive directorships across a range of organisations from a not-for-profit contemporary arts production company, to a digital innovation company. This has taught me how to perform the role of ‘critical friend’ to different types of organisations and boards and given me an understanding of not for profit organisations, their drivers and key challenges.

I am the owner and manager of a commercial law firm employing c65 people across the north and have also been involved in a number of other commercial ventures including a consultancy business and a holiday lettings business so I understand and have first hand experience of business, finance and people management through good times and the more challenging! I have also managed and led a number of significant change programmes – most recently following the departure of our founder from the business. These experiences, knowledge and skills mean that I will be able to contribute on a strategic and operational level to the work of Disability North.

My values are fairly simple – I have a strong moral compass and I believe in doing what is right and fair, being willing to put my head above the parapet to stand up for things that I believe are important and I have integrity and authenticity at my core. I also very much believe that life is for living and we should all have the opportunity to live our best lives as our true authentic selves.