Children & Young People Opinion

Whizzing for inclusivity

Sarah Howe, Head of Young People’s Services & Safeguarding, Whizz Kidz

Sarah Howe, Head of Young People’s Services & Safeguarding at Whizz Kidz, explains how this charity is tackling social isolation for young wheel chair users and their families.

Imagine a family day out. For most of us, it’s easy to picture. We have fond memories of getting soaked on theme park rides, over-competitive mini-golf championships, and ice creams for everyone, melting faster than you can lick them.

For the 75,000 young people in the UK who need a wheelchair to be mobile, it’s not that easy and carefree. A family trip is often not an option at all. So many attractions are inaccessible, and so many activities are unavailable to disabled people that the kind of relaxed days out we take for granted remain out of reach for young wheelchair users and their families. And that’s before the devastating cost of living crisis that impacts disabled people most severely of all pulls the possibility of family fun even further away.

Here at Whizz Kidz, the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users, we see this effect on the whole family. We know how isolating disability can be on individuals. Research from the charity Sense [1]showed nearly two-thirds (61%) of disabled people were chronically lonely, and this is even higher (70%) for younger disabled people. Having mobility issues can restrict your ability to participate in activities and meet people. Whizz Kidz exists to help with those challenges. We supply high-quality mobility equipment that is fitted to meet young people’s unique needs. But the right wheelchair is only the start. Our activity programmes run nationwide to give young people the confidence-boosting skills to be more independent.

But as our community is made up of young people and their families, we are also well-placed to see how the social isolation of young wheelchair users extends to the loved ones around them. This is important because many of our happiest memories are ones we share with our loved ones. You might not think it when you were being teased by your older brother on a “Are we nearly there yet” car journey, but we probably have the most fun together with siblings, parents, carers and close friends. These are family highlights we share as we grow up. The “what I did on my summer holidays” stories we tell when we get back to school and work, the highlight reels in our photo albums at the end of the year.

At Whizz Kidz, we were determined to address the social isolation of young wheelchair users and their families. After much thinking and research, the answer came in the form of our Kidz Max Days, made possible by Caretech’s generous funding.

Starting in 2022 with four events across the UK, these take our programme of accessible activities and pack them into one special day in the summer for the young wheelchair user and their family to enjoy together. Last year’s four events in Scotland, Wales, and the North and South of England were even more successful as over 78 young wheelchair users, 140 parents/carers, and 67 siblings came to have a fantastic time on boats, bikes, skis and toboggans. They played mini-golf and laser tag, danced, painted, climbed rock faces, drove fast around a racetrack, handled exotic animals, learned circus skills and more. This year, we are looking forward to another year of exciting events and introducing new activities like white water rafting and paddle boarding.

We want to push perceptions of what’s possible for young wheelchair users. Whatever the activity, we like to find a way to do it. Often, the most difficult thing is reassuring naturally cautious parents that their child getting wet, climbing high, or going fast is as fun as their children tell them it is afterwards. Working with incredible adaptive activity providers like Access Adventures, which has disabled instructors, helps make the argument, and it’s motivating for young people who can see it so they can be it.

The value of Kidz Max isn’t just the chance to challenge yourself with new, heart-pounding adventure sports, though. We pride ourselves on offering something for everybody. Campfire making, painting your message on communal artwork, or meeting a meerkat is as popular as the more thrill-seeking experiences.

Equally as important as what you do is who you get to do it with. For many young wheelchair users, this is the first time they have met that many other young people in wheelchairs. What could be more important than the chance to make new friends and have fun together? Families have much to discuss with other families in similar situations, and the conversation flows in this casual, unforced environment.

Kidz Max has a significant impact on families. We’ll never forget the parent who told us how this was the first time their two daughters had been able to do the same activity together – to share the experience and be able to gleefully talk about it on the journey home and for years to come.

It’s moments like this – and there are thousands of them across a summer of Kidz Maxes, that make you realise how these events are a glimpse into how things could be if accessibility and inclusion were properly funded aims in society, not just buzzwords. A day out for a family with a young wheelchair user is the opposite of carefree. The preparation and planning need to be military in scale, and you’re only ever one out-of-order lift or toilet from disappointment. With Kidz Max, everything is accessible, and anything is possible. Families tell us how much they love the freedom to have fun together without worrying about wheelchairs being included. They just are.

Many young people and families attending Kidz Max are new to Whizz Kidz (29 last year), and it’s great to welcome them into our community. We may kick off our relationship with the chance to ski or race around a track, but we know that social isolation must be tackled daily with the right equipment and experiences. Whizz Kidz’s vision is a society where every young wheelchair user is mobile, enabled and included. By removing the barriers young wheelchair users and their families face in the rest of their lives, Kidz Max starts to bring this vision about. Ultimately, accessibility and inclusion are the opposite of isolation and the most powerful ways to end it.

@WhizzKidz   @CareTechFdn

whizz-kidz.org.uk  caretechfoundation.org.uk

[1] www.sense.org.uk/media/latest-press-releases/loneliness-rises-dramatically-among-disabled-people/

Kirsty

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