Disabled and disadvantaged children looking for a summer break have limited options when it comes to mixing with non-disabled children. Emma Parsons reports
At a time when most parents and carers are facing the problem of how to entertain their children during the long summer school break, the lucky few will choose to send them on one of a growing number of residential holidays, such as adventure activity breaks or summer camps.
Of course, cost and lack of availability mean this isn’t viable for many parents. When you factor in a disability the options for children are even more limited. Most holidays are not designed with wheelchair-users in mind, and the most disadvantaged children have few opportunities to see the countryside and take part in activities others might take for granted.
Specialist children’s holiday providers, such as Camp Beaumont and PGL Holidays, can offer places to disabled children if their needs are not too severe but only consider applications on a case-by-case basis.
Steve Hougham, PGL Holidays’ business manager, says: “We take each child individually and we’ll always try to take every child who wants to come on a holiday. There are all sorts of risk assessments, policies and procedures, and processes in place across the board. We do have policies for physical and mental disabilities, but we have to take into account the health and well-being of the child and others in the group and members of staff.
“Every day I personally am looking at applications from someone with some form of medical issue and nine out of 10 times that child can come. There’s an element to our holidays which requires you to be self-sustaining so there’s a balance between that and someone who needs more help. There is disabled access, but we are adventure centres. If a child can’t use the equipment in a safe way then we can’t do it.”
The story is similar at Camp Beaumont. “We have all sorts of children come to us who aren’t fully able, but we can’t have children who can’t join in with everything and we can’t administer medication – they have to be able to do it themselves. And we can’t lift them,” says sales manager Lisa Barrett.
It seems children with the most severe disabilities or disadvantages must turn to specialist charities if they are to have a holiday without their parents or usual carers. Charities such as the 3H Fund, which organises group holidays for people with physical disabilities over the age of 13, and Second Chance, which provides holidays for the most disadvantaged children, are among the options.
3H Fund runs a week-long young people’s activity holiday in August with activities such as climbing, canoeing, abseiling, archery and sailing. It is heavily subsidised by the charity and costs guests £550 for the week, including full board.
“It gives them the opportunity to do things like abseiling that regularly it would be very difficult for a disabled person to do,” says 3H Fund manager Lynne Loving. “It’s fantastic that they get to do activities that generally it would be very difficult for them to be included in. It’s a real confidence-boosting activity as well as an opportunity to make friends.”
Second Chance, a charity which was originally set up in 1984 to take children from deprived backgrounds on camping and fishing trips, now works with a range of vulnerable children, such as those who have been sexually, physically or mentally abused, who live in poverty and who have learning difficulties. It takes them on educational and residential trips both in the UK and abroad and the emphasis is still on fishing.
“[The charity] uses fishing to establish lines of communication between the youngsters and the volunteer adults, and to give children a sense of achievement, confidence and social understanding,” the charity says.
Crucially, though, these holidays will be taken with other disabled or disadvantaged children and therefore not give them the opportunity to mix with mainstream kids.
There are plenty of facilities available which are equipped to meet the needs of disabled people, but few opportunities for children to take advantage of them with non-disabled children.
This is a pity, says Jill Cochrane, director of communications at children’s mobility charity Whizz-Kidz. “It is important that once children have mobility equipment that can support greater independence, for example, powered wheelchairs, there are options out there that will allow them to play in an inclusive environment.
“Without mainstream facilities that encourage equal play there will always be a division of activities for disabled young people instead of the equality that we should be affording all children.”
CASE STUDY: BIRKENHEAD YMCA
Boating on the Broads
One organisation bucking the trend in offering more innovative holiday experiences for disabled and disadvantaged young people is the Birkenhead branch of the YMCA which has recently bought a narrow boat. Initially envisaged for use by young homeless people, organisers are keen to see other community groups and charities take it out and it has recently been used for short breaks by two youth groups and a charity for people with learning disabilities.
Birkenhead YMCA deputy chief executive Nigel Hughes (right) explains the benefits of the boat. “The boat is very restful. It has been designed to promote a peaceful and harmonious environment. There’s something about the water – the restfulness and peacefulness – that gives people the chance to stop and take stock.
“It brings out some of the things I think are lacking in the community today like considering others,” adds Hughes.
Narrow boats are not the easiest of boats for wheelchair users but Hughes says they’ve tried to make the boat as accessible as possible “for everyone”. The group has another boat, based on the Norfolk Broads, which is wide-beamed and so more suitable.
Hughes is convinced the therapeutic effect of the water is one of the best ways of bringing some equilibrium into a troubled life. “Urban life today is pretty tough for some people. When you slow everything down to three or four miles per hour you have time to see and hear the sounds of the countryside. I’ve seen so many life-changing experiences on the water.”
● http://www.ymca.org.uk. Contact local groups for their own residential holiday facilities.
● http://www.pgl.co.uk for information about PGL Holidays
● http://www.campbeaumont.co.uk for information about Camp Beaumont
● http://www.3hfund.org holidays for disabled people
● http://www.supercamps.co.uk can take disabled children if they bring their own carer
● http://whizz-kidz.org.uk gives support to disabled children and young people
Holidays for disabled children
There is a large amount of information available for families with a disabled member who want to organise their own holidays. Contact a Family, a charity for families with disabled children, publishes a leaflet on accessible holiday, leisure and play facilities. It has details of holiday centres and accommodation suitable for the disabled, and carries details of charities which can help with the organisation or funding of a holiday, as well as other sources of funding.
More information can be found at:
● http://www.thewheellifeguide.com is a directory of leisure and lifestyle activities for the wheelchair user.
● http://www.tourismforall.org.uk is a charity dedicated to making tourism accessible for all.
● http://www.accessibleguide.co.uk is a guide to accessible days out in Britain.
● http://www.disabledholidayinfo.org.uk has holiday information for wheelchair users.
Published in the 7 August 2008 issue of Community Care under the headline ‘The summer holiday gap’