A couple of nights ago I got a text from my best mate Laura that made me feel hopeful for the world – even though there’s so much to feel miserable about.
With her permission here’s Laura’s text about a conversation with her daughter Ruby, in full:
“So in tonight’s bedtime discussion, Ruby was very concerned about how children who are wheelchair users use a park, particularly a slide. So we invented one with a lift. Does this exist? She’s a bit obsessed with wheelchairs this week because we saw a young boy using a chair so she’s been thinking about how accessible everything is… if only she ran the country.”
Ruby’s four and she’s already instinctively using the social model of disability. She’s not asking how can we fix people but instead how can we fix environments so that everyone can participate. I spend a lot of time explaining this concept to adults in training sessions or through interviews. But if we can independently reach this way of thinking at four, why am I having to do this?
As brilliant and clever as Ruby is I don’t think her response to disability is unique. My experience of children is that they’re nearly always open and inclusive. When are we un-learning these instincts and how can we stop it happening?
I don’t want Ruby to lose her curiosity about disability or her interest in making the world more accessible. She’s at an advantage in that she’s known me as a wheelchair user her whole life and because her mum is comfortable with talking about disability.
Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about this a lot, so here are a few ideas for Laura and any other parent or carer wanting to nurture a curious mind and inclusive attitude:
• Look, Talk and Explore: Encourage conversations about disability. Point out and talk through how things have been made accessible to different people as you see them in your surroundings. I found out about the secret button at pedestrian crossings when I was in my late teens. I’ve loved sharing this with children over the years since. I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t find this fascinating. But there are lots of other things like drop kerbs, tactile paving, lifts in stations, ramps instead of stairs, accessible loos. It could be the start of a good game of accessible I-Spy.
• Ask, Don’t Just Guess: If your child asks a question about disability that you don’t know the answer to, don’t just guess the answer. Be honest, ask questions, find out and learn together. In answer to your question, Laura, yes, you can get platform lifts for playground slides, but ramps are much more common (and less likely to break).
• Play Together: Visit Inclusive play spaces like OasisPlay in London, The PlayPark in Exeter or Linn Park Adventure Playground in Glasgow, and similar places all over the world. Look on your council’s website, and if there isn’t one in your area, ask why not. Think about books and toys for your child that represent disabled people positively – like this new figure from Lego or these books from Stickman Communications
I hope one day Ruby will read back over this post and know how proud I was of her for being inquisitive, kind, and open. These are qualities we can all learn from.