Get up, stand up for your rights

David Tares’ passion for music is only matched by his tireless advocacy of the rights of people with disabilities

David Tares lives for music. The Disability Equality Trainer for Capability Scotland travels up and down the UK with his friends to see bands.

David is an ardent activist but says ‘As much as I work with disability it does not define me’

Earlier this year, he was in Dunfermline to see the legendary punk rock band The Stranglers… and he even managed to get up on stage alongside them as he complained about the barrier that was preventing him from seeing them from his position below the stage.

The Stranglers sing a rousing song on their 1977 No More Heroes album called “Something better change”, and that might be a fitting anthem for David to describe his passion for standing up for the rights of people with disabilities.

This interest in advocacy developed later in life when his mum suggested he seek more independence by leaving home.

David explained: “She actually did me a favour when she suggested I move out and become more independent, but at 31 years old my first experience of sheltered housing was not good. In hindsight, I think I was trying to run before I could walk.

“I am a private person but every time I came home from work there was a long line of people outside my door wanting to talk to me, ask my opinion on something or just moan. I just wanted to go to my room and enjoy my music – this constant attention was affecting my wellbeing.

“I went to the council to ask for something more suitable, but the housing officer said that the current accommodation was ‘adequate to my needs’ and I could not do anything about it unless it was affecting my health. At the same time I had just lost my job at the Benefit Agency because of my dyspraxia – a developmental disorder causing difficulty in activities requiring co-ordination and movement – and my employment counsellor said she was not going to support me any more because I had lost this job.

“These experiences made me realise how disempowered people with disabilities are to represent themselves. They did not see me as a person. In fact, the only person who really knows me is me, and that’s why I decided to stand up for my own and other people’s rights.”

David fought back and, with the help of his doctor, he was able to persuade the council to find more suitable accommodation. When he moved to another property within the Margaret Blackwood Housing Association (MBHA) he decided to volunteer to be a tenant board member, and from there his interest in social inclusion, advocacy, health and furthering the rights of disabled people grew.

It was while representing MBHA that he was invited to a Care Commission conference to explain the new grading structure that was being introduced.

David said: “I really enjoyed the event and it opened my eyes to what the then Care Commission was doing to help improve services. So, after five years with MBHA, I thought this was the right time to move on and volunteer to do something else.”

During this time David has worked as an inspection volunteer and is currently a member of the Care Inspectorate’s Involving People Group.

“I like the strategic role of this group and I get satisfaction knowing that we are making a difference and helping to shape the direction of the Care Inspectorate so it represents the interests of people who use care services.”

Over the years, David has also volunteered for many local organisations, from the Volunteer Centre Dundee to Dundee City Council, but it was through the local Princess Royal Trust for Carers that he got the opportunity to make his mark on the wider community and on the stage.

Through the Trust, he proposed to create his own disability and equality training programme, and won £5,000 of funding from the National Lottery. One of his first customers was the Dundee Rep Theatre. It was while giving sessions to staff at the theatre that it dawned on him the similarity between presenting in a boardroom and acting on stage, so he signed up for the theatre’s weekly adult drama group.

David said: “My involvement with the Rep was one of the most enjoyable and life-changing things I have done, and it very much shaped the person I am today – it gave me so much self-confidence.”

David starred in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and in an innovative play called If Those Spasms Could Speak, which centres on disabled people and their body image, and had a two-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

He has since gone on to presenting equality workshops for the Tenant Advisory Service and The Scottish Housing Federation, and it was while delivering one of these events in 2004 that he was asked by Capability Scotland to become its Disability Equality Trainer, to teach employees and clients about these issues.

But David likes to say: “As much as I work with disability it does not define me”, and this is certainly true when he’s checking out the next gigs he want to go to across the country.

Although he enjoys most musical genres, his real passion is for folk music, more specifically Fairport Convention – who he has seen 86 times!

He said: “When I was 23, I went to see Jethro Tull in Dundee and I loved them. However, I found out the bassist in the band, Dave Pegg, was also in a folk group called Fairport Convention, so when I got to see them I was instantly hooked.

“I’ve met Dave many times and even got up on the stage to play with him, so I was very excited when I heard they were going to be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year with a special gig in London.

“It was sold out, but my girlfriend has managed to get me tickets as a surprise, so I’m thrilled that I’m seeing the band play 50 years on from the exact day of their very first performance in 1967.”