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Scottish parliament welcomes first blind MSP

Former social worker Dennis Robertson has become the first blind person to be elected to the Scottish parliament since it sat for the first time in 1999.

Robertson, who represents Aberdeenshire West for the SNP, is a former pupil of Edinburgh’s Royal Blind School. He has worked for the charity Guide Dogs and is a guide dog-user himself.

Although Robertson was unavailable to discuss his election this week, a spokeswoman for the Scottish parliament said staff were working with him on access issues at the parliament building at Holyrood, Edinburgh.

She said: “While a number of adjustments are already in place as part of our continuous improvement programme for accessibility, staff have been working closely with Dennis to establish his preferred ways of working and any practical arrangements that need to be put in place.”

Among these arrangements are establishing his preferred methods of communication within parliament and any adaptive technologies he needs, and ensuring suitable facilities are available for Mr Q, his guide dog.

She added: “Dennis has said he is very impressed with the work being carried out by staff to ensure that he is ready and prepared for undertaking his new role as MSP.

“It is indeed a new experience for everyone at the parliament and we will inevitably learn and improve on the practicalities as he gradually settles in.”

His election was welcomed by the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), which called on Robertson and other MSPs to endorse its campaign for improved services for blind, partially-sighted and deafblind people in Scotland.

This includes funding for mobility training, improved council support services, a crackdown on pavement parking and a halt to controversial “shared space” street developments.

Douglas Gilroy, NFB UK’s vice-president, said: “I am concerned about the threat of deepening cuts as a result of Scotland-wide spending decisions and how these impact on the life chances of blind people.

“I will be writing to first minister Alex Salmond, Mr Robertson and all newly elected MSPs to discuss how they can work with us to ensure that blind and partially-sighted people can live as equal and valued citizens in today’s complex society.”