All primary schools must have a disability equality scheme in place by December 2007. Margaret Collins offers some practical suggestions to help you meet the challenge

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) sets out a general duty to promote disability equality with a specific duty which applies to local authorities and publicly funded schools. This includes a requirement to prepare and publish a disability equality scheme showing how a public authority is meeting its general duty.

Schools must demonstrate what they have done and what they plan to do to improve opportunities and outcomes for disabled pupils, staff, parents and other users of the school. They must involve pupils, staff, parents and others in the development of their scheme. Disabled people need to be involved from the very start and their involvement needs to inform the preparation, development, publication, review and reporting of the scheme.

The disability equality scheme must show how the school takes a proactive approach to promoting disability equality, inclusion and eliminating discrimination. It must be explicit, comprehensive and involve disabled pupils, staff, parents and other users of the school. It is illegal to treat a disabled pupil or prospective pupil less favourably than another for reasons related to their disability. Schools must ensure that every effort is made to cater for the disabled person’s physical and mental needs. The governing body of the school is the ‘responsible body’ for the DDA duties and needs to ensure that everyone in the school, staff or volunteer, is aware of the duties owed to disabled pupils.

To avoid discrimination against any disabled pupil, all staff need to consider how they will implement the scheme in relation to their area of responsibility. The disability equality scheme should show how the school is accessible for disabled people and how teachers, ancillary staff and parents were prepared for implementation of the scheme. Most schools now have disabled access, but it may be necessary to look at other areas of the building to decide if alterations need to be made or whether disabled children can be catered for in certain areas.

There is more to disability equality than the written scheme, the practical considerations of the school building and the attitudes of the staff. Children have needs too, and not only those who are disabled. Both disabled and able-bodied children need help in recognising disabilities, both physical and mental, and learning how to treat people with disabilities. We need to help children to understand:

  • that there are different kinds of disabilities
  • what they think it feels like to be disabled
  • what they can do to help people who are disabled
  • how they can show empathy for disabled people
  • how to interact with children who are disabled.

Through discussion, involvement and practical activities, able-bodied children can be made more aware of the needs and feelings of people who are disabled.

Promoting disability equality in practice
I have been working with the ‘Enable Me’ team, an offshoot of the Shopmobility group in Littlehampton, Sussex. The team goes into schools to talk to children about disability and tries to help them to understand what being disabled means and how it doesn’t have to stop people doing what they want (see the boxes on this page and the opposite page). They give able-bodied children practice in using disability aids and try to help them to understand how people with various disabilities feel; in particular by running a wheelchair basketball tournament for able-bodied Year 6 children.

And the disabled children themselves?
Some disabled people, especially children, find it hard to let others know how they themselves feel. Perhaps on admitting such a child to school we should find out the child’s own feelings about the life they have to lead. Though it is not easy for young children to find the words to say what they mean, we can tap into their feelings with this a simple draw and write activity along the following lines:

  1. Draw yourself in your classroom coping with your disability. Write what you are doing and how you are feeling.
  2. Draw yourself with a group of friends in the playground. Write what you are doing and how you are feeling.
  3. Draw a grown-up at school that you can talk to about your disability. Write the person’s name and what you are saying to them.
  4. Draw yourself feeling good at school with your disability. Write down some of the good things about how your school helps you to cope with your disability.
  5. What else could your school do to support you and make you feel better about your disability?

The responses of the children could be very helpful to others in knowing how this particular child feels and how he likes to be treated. It could alert adults in school to understand the child’s needs. This activity could be repeated annually and attitudes noted in the child’s records.

In conclusion
Disability equality is important and implementation of the DDA will go a long way towards full inclusion; but this is not only about those who are disabled. We have a duty to educate all children to understand the feelings of disabled people and to know how to include them. Able bodied children need to know that though disabled people may (or may not) look different on the outside, they usually feel just the same as they do on the inside.

Visit www.teachernet.gov.uk to download Implementing the Disability Discrimination Act in Schools and Early Years Settings.

Talking to children about disability at Milton Mount Primary School, Crawley
Following a brief presentation about the work of the Enable Me team, children were introduced to Swasie Turner, MBE, and heard him speak about his wonderful and uplifting fundraising activities following an accident when he had been a police officer. This charismatic individual is an inspiration to those who are in wheelchairs as well as helping able-bodied people to know how to treat such disabilities and disabled people. Children who had seen a person in a wheelchair as someone to be pitied now saw a different side to disability. Swasie was able to show the children that even such a disability can be overcome; it can be an inspiration to do good things for the community; it can be seen as a challenge. Following this interaction there were practical activities for the children. They, for example, were able to use wheelchairs – and found them difficult to manoeuvre! They used aids for the disabled and, through special glasses, were able to view the world of the partially sighted.

As part of a tool to evaluate the success of the Enable Me team’s work, children were asked to write what advice they might give to someone who was disabled and would not be able to walk again. One Year 6 girl wrote: ‘Nothing, because I can’t speak to people that have something wrong with them because it makes me upset’. This seems to be a universal worry for children – they may have been told not to stare at, or to look away from, people who are disabled. True inclusion would not tolerate this and we can address this problem in school.

If we want able-bodied children to understand and feel empathy for those who are disabled, we need to try to put them in the shoes of someone who is disabled. Asking disabled people to visit classrooms and talk to children is a valuable input.

Talking to children about disability at Copthorne Infant School, Sussex
Considering how I would approach the need to help able-bodied children with their understanding on this issue I spent an hour with a Year 2 class. I talked to the children about people who are able-bodied and those who are not. I introduced the words ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’ and explained that these were the acceptable words to use about people who were not able-bodied. I explained that some disabled people had small disabilities that would get better and that some had large disabilities that would never get better; we discussed this. I then pointed out that some people had disabilities that you could see and others were disabled in a way that you wouldn’t notice. I asked the children if they knew people who were disabled in each of these ways and they told me about people they knew. I asked them to do some drawing and writing for me and said we would talk about what they had drawn and written afterwards.

Each child was given a piece of A4 paper and asked to fold it into half and half again. This gave them four ‘boxes’. In the first box I asked them to draw someone with a disability that shows. In the second, I asked them to write what the disability is and how they think the person feels about being disabled. The next box required them to draw someone with a disability that doesn’t show and in the last to write what that disability is and how they think that that person feels.

I collected their papers and we gathered on the carpet to talk. A boy in the class had just returned to school with a broken leg; many of the children’s accounts of disabilities you could see were of this type. We discussed these kinds of disabilities and the long list of feelings they had written; all feelings of sadness, loneliness or unhappiness.

We talked then about disabilities that you can’t see. Some mentioned brain damage and people who are blind or deaf. We agreed that these disabilities were difficult to understand because the people looked just like everyone else. One child wrote, ‘Doesn’t know what anything is because her brain isn’t working properly’. Another wrote, ‘Sad but happy at same time because of friends’. This was a wonderful way in to talk about the importance of friends to people who are disabled. We talked about what disabled people could do and couldn’t do and how they might feel about their disabilities.

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