Disabled Children Do Matter

Photo: Boy in a wheelchair 

Many disabled children fail to reach their full potential because they continue to be marginalised in schools, health and social care, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

"We found that disabled children often experience discrimination, exclusion and even violence," say Dan Goodley and Katherine Runswick-Cole, who implemented the study. "The biggest barriers they meet are the attitudes of other people and widespread forms of institutional discrimination."

"Disabled children are seldom allowed to play and act like other children because of concerns about their 'leaky and unruly' bodies. But our study shows that many children who don't fit the narrow definition of 'normal' have untapped reserves of potential and high aspirations which can be fulfilled when their families receive effective support. There are also many amazing families who should be celebrated for the way they fight for their children,” continues Goodley.

The findings, which are based on a series of interviews with disabled children and their families, reveal numerous barriers to these goals, for example:

• Disabled children are often perceived by educational and care professionals as “lacking” and as failing to fit in with the image of ‘normal’;

• Families who do not match the norm are frequently excluded from friendships, education and work;

• The support system is complicated and there are gaps in provision, particularly during the transition to adulthood;

• Physical access and transport barriers to sport and leisure activities result in segregation, while participation in art and creative activities is limited;

• Widespread discriminatory attitudes threaten to create a culture of bullying;

• Families of children with life-limiting/threatening impairments often experience isolation and poverty

The study found that bullying is often accepted as inevitable when disabled children are perceived as vulnerable. There were several layers of violence, from manhandling in school to psychological bullying, which often goes unnoticed by adults. Some children do however stand up to bullies and refuse to be limited by labels that are imposed upon them.

One young person insisted on attending Brownies meetings alone, despite health and safety rules that required her mother to accompany her. "Kids seem to enjoy challenging people's expectations about their limitations," the researchers commented.

REHACARE.de; Source: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

- More about the Economic and Social Research Council at www.esrc.ac.uk