We held a survey with MumsNet this week. It found 6 out of 10 parents of disabled children find activities – like play groups, youth clubs and leisure centres – shut out their son or daughter.
What’s shocking is that it’s not about access or specialist equipment. It’s about the attitudes and understanding of other parents and people running the activities. These make the biggest difference to whether disabled children have the chance to play and mix with other kids.
It’s encouraging to hear great examples of local activities welcoming disabled children, and how there seems to have been a change for the better over recent years.
“I help on a Scout camp for Scouts with special needs who may find camp with their own group difficult. I have been going for more than 25 years. When this was first set up, integration was virtually unheard of. Thankfully young ones are in their local Scout groups having fun with their peers and going camping without problems now.” – Dawn
“My daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Our local gymnastics club has been brilliant. The club is now looking to expand and have more facilities and classes for children with additional needs.” – Mandy
“I always go to local groups with my disabled daughter! No one blinks an eye. We do live in a village where everyone knows everyone so they all know me and my daughter. We’ve never had a problem and I count myself very lucky.” – Charlotte
“My son had been made to feel very welcome by the Scouts and is loving it. Apart from development delay and an autistic spectrum disorder, he also had epilepsy. They are happy to have extra training on how to deal with a seizure. Very impressed. The children have been completely accepting of my son which in itself is great.” – Susan
We heard of many local activities shutting out disabled children. This echoed the findings of our survey with MumsNet.
“My daughter was thrown out of Brownies for being too disabled and asked to wait for a group that was more ‘disabled friendly’. Still hurts today and that was 12 years ago.” – Trina
“Find it hard to find play facilities, such as swings in parks and so on, that cater for children in wheelchairs.” – Dorren
The change needed
It’s clear from what parents say, that many local activities need to change so that more disabled children can take part.
Here are a few ways you’ve dealt with the challenges yourself.
“I offer to stay in the next room, so she gets her independence at the group but so I’m in the vicinity should she need me or should they need advice. Local drama group were very supportive.” – Emma
“Persistence! Our daughter with cerebral palsy is in Rainbows – part of the Girl Guides. It wasn’t easy finding a group who could take her. Then there was a lot of red tape and medical forms to fill in. In the end it was all worth it.” – Shelly-Ann
“I was careful to choose clubs that weren’t too busy. We chose Beavers because the leader said, “Why hasn’t he come with you – go and get him!” when I went to enquire.” – Adele
It’s great that some parents have found ways to deal with the problems or started their own activities, but the obstacles shouldn’t be there in the first place.
The Government is writing new guidelines on how councils should make sure disabled children can take part in local activities. We want them to support organisers and be clear on how activities should be run.
Everyone must play their part. We need commitment at every level to making sure disabled children can play, just like any child. As someone from the US Department of Education tweeted when they heard about our survey: