Disabled children ‘face exclusion in both England and Wales’

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Separate reports by the children’s commissioners for Wales and England have highlighted the inequalities still faced by disabled children.

A report by the children’s commissioner [for England]on the rights of disabled children and young people says they feel society still holds negative views about them, while there are “major obstacles and barriers” that prevent them enjoying their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

And a report by the children’s commissioner for Wales into the accessibility of secondary schools for wheelchair-users has uncovered “inadequacies” in the system intended to increase access.

The report on England, They Still Need To Listen More, reveals that – just like many disabled adults – disabled young people are “concerned and anxious” about government cuts and reforms to their benefits and services.

And – again like many disabled adults – they feel the media often portrays negative images of disabled people and “often linked disability with benefit dependency”.

They also report “distressing accounts of bullying” happening to them and their disabled peers, with one telling a researcher: “Bullying is not dealt with or taken seriously… the school turned round and told me to deal with it myself.”

Another says: “I can switch off my hearing aid so I don’t have to listen to what others are saying about me.”

The report also questions the adequacy of child protection services for disabled children, problems with access to communication aids, and the lack of support in education.

One young person says: “The lifts don’t work, space in classrooms is too small and I cannot get around the dinner hall or move round the corridors.”

The research was carried out by four young disabled researchers, who spoke to 34 disabled children and young people about the realisation of their rights under UNCRPD.

The report concludes: “Those involved in this research consider there is no serious, and certainly no comprehensive, plan for the real and meaningful inclusion of disabled children in all aspects of the society in which they are growing up.”

Among the report’s recommendations are for a new cross-government group that would draw up a strategy to change public attitudes to disabled people and reduce negative stereotypes; for more to be done to tackle disability hate crime and abuse; for better training and support for teachers; and for extra support in accessing jobs.

The children’s commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson (pictured), said it was “unacceptable” that such issues still had to be raised.

But she promised that the views of the disabled children and young people would “inform and shape” any submission she made to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Meanwhile, the report by the children’s commissioner for Wales, Full Lives: Equal Access?, says families often “struggle” to secure a secondary school place for their disabled child, with “many feeling they have to fight and compromise in order to achieve a reasonable outcome”.

The report, which looks at how local authorities implement their duty under the Equality Act to plan the accessibility of schools for disabled pupils, raises concerns over the “negative attitudes” of some staff in both schools and local authorities.

And it says that some wheelchair-users are excluded from certain classes, such as cookery or science, and from school trips.

Research carried out last year found that only two of the 22 local education authorities in Wales had an accessibility strategy that “resembled what was intended by legislation”, says the report.

The commissioner, Keith Towler, criticised equality laws that require local authorities to plan the accessibility of schools for disabled pupils, and individual schools to have an accessibility plan in place, but do not require those schools to make their buildings physically accessible.

Towler said: “I find it difficult to accept that schools are not under the same duties as other public buildings in their requirements under the Equality Act 2010 to make their buildings physically accessible.

“Despite this missed opportunity, there are statutory duties in place and we need to make sure local education authorities and schools fulfil these obligations.”

He added: “How can we expect children and young people to reach their full potential when these physical barriers are placed in their way?”

20 November 2014

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