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) carried out by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dan Goodley and Katherine Runswick-Cole. December is UK Disability History Month.
The aim of our project ‘Does Every Child Matter, post Blair?’ was to find out what life is like for disabled children and young people in the context of policy changes set in motion by the New Labour Government after 1997. The Aiming High for Disabled Children policy agenda was intended to enable disabled children to be ‘healthy’, ‘stay safe’, ‘enjoy and achieve’, ‘make a positive contribution’ and ‘achieve economic well-being’.
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
We found that disabled children often experience discrimination, exclusion and even violence in their lives. We 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. The biggest barriers disabled children meet are the negative attitudes of other people and widespread forms of institutional discrimination.
Despite discriminatory attitudes and the low expectations, we found 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 they and their families receive effective support. There are also many amazing families who should be celebrated for the way they fight for their children.
We are calling for a change of attitude towards disability so that diversity is not only valued, but promoted. We recommend that policy should prioritise enabling disabled children to break down barriers by supporting their participation in education, the arts, leisure and their communities and by meeting their communication requirements.
Visit the project website on http://post-blair.posterous.com/
Dan Goodley, PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Disability Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. His research and teaching aims to shake up dominant myths in psychology as well as contributing, in some small way, to the development of critical disability studies theories that understand and eradicate disablism. Recent publications include Disability Studies: An interdisciplinary introduction (Sage, 2011).
Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is Research Fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has published extensively in the field of disability and the family.