How to create an inclusive space for young people with disabilities?
by Anna Cheetham, Co-Director of Yellow Submarine
When asked to write a blog on creating an inclusive space for young people with disabilities, I did exactly what Ms Miller my year 9 English teacher advised and analysed the title to fully comprehend the question. I dutifully thumbed my dependable Oxford Dictionary which offers the definition ‘Inclusive – adjective: Not excluding any section of society or any party involved in something.’
Accordingly, in this context, inclusion means that a young person shouldn’t be excluded from a youth group or similar setting on the basis of their impairment or difference.
Aha, I chuckle to myself self-assuredly, as a charity whose primary directive is to ensure that ‘People with Learning Disabilities and Autism Live Life to the Full’ we would never exclude a disabled child from a Youth Club.
Our weekly youth club operates on the first floor of our building. Sorry no wheelchair users allowed. We work on a support ratio of 1:3. Oopsy, no behaviours that challenge us here please. We can’t support young people with enteral feeding. Apologies! No people who can’t swallow food thanks. Oh gosh. Things just got a little uncomfortable.
I jest. This isn’t a new concept to us. It’s a challenge we’ve recognised for some time – being inclusive is hard, but recognising that you’re not inclusive is harder.
The Equality Act 2010 decrees it against the law to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their disability. Under the Act, employers and organisations have a responsibility to make sure that disabled people can access jobs, education and services as easily as non-disabled people; this is known as the ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments’. Reasonable adjustments can take an infinite number of forms and can be as simple as implementing additional training, purchasing ear defenders or introducing a ‘quiet room’. They are as diverse as the young people you support and often the most creative, low cost items can be most effective.
You only have to do what is reasonable…but what is considered reasonable exactly? The definition of reasonable is an objective test and not the result of opinion. The overall aim should remain, as far as possible, to remove or reduce any disadvantage faced by a disabled young person. Some of our most successful adaptations have come from the individuals themselves, conversation with young people and their families can often result in ideas for practical solutions.
However, the true meaning of inclusion shouldn’t be dictated by an organisation’s capacity to install a hoist or by building a ramp. It happens where people believe that all children and young people should be valued and included; when people work together to creature a culture of accessibility which is more than physical; when people recognise that these children are disabled by society, rather than their impairments.
The path to inclusion is a journey and it won’t have a clearly defined end point. The starting point is recognising barriers to people accessing the service. It may involve uncomfortable reflection, awkward realisations and organisational change. We are well on the way to inclusion, we do what we can within our means to welcome all young people, but we still have a way to go. We’re still learning and adjusting – but that’s part of the journey.
Mencap have produced this useful tool kit, designed specifically for Youth Groups to examine their practice and implement change.
We’ll be coming along to the Oxfordshire Youth Annual Youth Work Conference on 9th November, “Youth Work For All” and sharing some successful (and fun) methods of inclusion and discussing how organisations can make their provision more accessible to disabled young people. I hope to see you there!