Whizz-Kidz last week presented a manifesto to No 10 Downing Street with recommendations from young disabled people on how to improve public services, sport and role models.
The Paralympic Games last year shone a spotlight on the talent, skill and ambition of young disabled people. Whizz-Kidz was incredibly proud to see a number of our beneficiaries participating in the Games: in boccia, wheelchair basketball, and, of course, on the athletics track where Hannah Cockroft stormed to victory in the T34 100m and 200m.
For every athlete making headlines through their extraordinary achievement, there are still thousands of disabled children and young people waiting for the right equipment – and simply the chance of a full and active childhood.
At the end of 2012, Whizz-Kidz polled and interviewed young disabled people who have set out their key recommendations in our Generation Inspired? manifesto. While the Paralympics gave them tremendous inspiration, we are keen to see its legacy extend across society.
The recommendations include communities working together so that schools, disability sports clubs, parents and young people can share expertise, facilities and opportunities to play. And for more employers to offer young disabled people work placements and internships (we know from working with companies in this way at Whizz-Kidz that any fear or stigma rapidly disappears once young people’s skills and talents are encouraged).
Those polled also want transport operators to treat disabled passengers like any other commuter. This point was brought home when our patron Hannah Cockroft was returning home from delivering the manifesto to Downing Street last week. She was told by a train firm she “should have notified in advance” that she was a wheelchair user – and might not get on the train as a consequence. When a train has a ramp readily available, this constant reminder that we are somehow “an inconvenience” singles us out.
It may seem simple, but supporting disabled people to play active roles in decisions affecting their own lives can take away perceived barriers to most things and find solutions, another key recommendation in the report.
As well as Generation Inspired?, Whizz-Kidz is looking forward to NHS health reforms that introduce the any qualified provider clause, due to be implemented in September 2013, to wheelchair services. Giving young wheelchair users and their families the choice to be referred to providers such as Whizz-Kidz will help transform the lives of hundreds more disabled children and young people in the UK who are waiting to receive the mobility equipment to fit their young lives.
The right wheelchair can set young people on the road to independence, giving them opportunities to participate fully in school, and play with their friends – no longer being pushed around by parents, siblings or teachers. As wheelchair-users, we sometimes say that our wheelchairs are our “shoes”. Without these, around 70,000 young disabled people are unable to leave the starting blocks and develop the skills needed for adulthood.
Whizz-Kidz is determined to make the enduring legacy of the Paralympic Games one that provides all young disabled people with the equipment, opportunities and support to make the most of their lives, giving them their own chance to shine and reach their potential.
But if we could call for one thing only, it would be that young people are given the right equipment as early as possible, because this represents the good start we all need, from athletes to students to chief executives.
Ruth Owen is chief executive of Whizz-Kidz and George Fielding is chairman of the Whizz-Kidz’s Kidz Board