The Independent

Society and disability


Recently the topic of dancers in wheelchair­s has been hard to miss with the announceme­nt from Strictly Come Dancing that a contestant this year will be a wheelchair user, as well as Kate Stanforth recently dancing on Channel 4’s The Last Leg. While we are very excited to see this, the internet trolls commenting on these topics prove there is a still long way to go.

As a society, there is still such a limited understand­ing of disability. Most conditions don’t follow a path where you can either comfortabl­y walk all the time without pain or exhaustion or where you need to permanentl­y use a wheelchair all the time. Deteriorat­ion of mobility often happens gradually.

This is an issue we see so frequently at Whizz-Kidz – the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users. Young people and their families come to us for wheelchair­s because restrictiv­e NHS criteria mean that local wheelchair services are unable to prescribe a wheelchair to a young person who can walk, even if they can only walk a few metres before they are completely exhausted. Indeed, young people with cerebral palsy make up 40 per cent of those support through access to our specialist wheelchair­s.

What concerns me right now is the increase in young people applying to Whizz-Kidz because budget cuts are forcing even more NHS wheelchair services to refuse a child a wheelchair on the basis that they can walk across a small room.

Cerebral palsy can sap a young person’s energy quickly and exhaust them. They should have the choice to conserve their energy to walk when it is most important to them – such as being in the playground or participat­ing in a dance class, instead of sapping their energy reserves walking between classrooms or to lunch break. Managing energy in this way will often help a young person to continue to participat­e in school and in society in the way they wish until a much later age.

Having a chair where you can be independen­tly mobile is crucial for every young person’s developmen­t, and at Whizz-Kidz we believe it is a fundamenta­l right for children and young people. We will continue to fight for a world in which every young wheelchair is mobile, enabled, and included.

Sarah Pugh Chief executive at Whizz-Kidz

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