The ask force

A trip to the park, coffee with friends, a visit to the seaside or
the funfair. It’s not a lot to ask, and it’s something most young
people take for granted. But many disabled children and young
people are denied access even to these simple pleasures because
parks, playgrounds and other leisure facilities lack the
adaptations to enable them to use them.

Inclusion and consultation are words that are much bandied around
in social care, but the principles are often forgotten when it
comes to providing services for young disabled people. Ask Us!, an
initiative run by the Children’s Society, went back to basics and
put disabled children and young people centre stage by giving them
an opportunity to tell the government and professionals what they
want and need, and how important it is for them to be involved in
planning services.

The project’s work was officially recognised in November last year
when it won the Community Care award in the disability
category. Chris Osborne, principal policy and practice manager with
the Children’s Society, manages the Ask Us! initiative. She says
the project was born after the Department of Health decided to set
up a national reference group as part of Quality Protects to look
at how services for disabled children and young people could be
improved. In 2000, it commissioned the Children’s Society,
supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to consult disabled
children and young people about these aims.

Ask Us! used some of the JRF funding to appoint a co-ordinator for
the consultation initiative whose job it was to develop the method
and the structure for the exercise. Osborne says that from the
outset they encouraged all the projects to think about identifying
disabled young people in their area who could act as researchers
and find out what their peers wanted. Major themes were access and

“We identified six Children’s Society projects: Pact from
Yorkshire; Transitions from Merseyside; Glenfield & Melton from
Leicestershire; Shared Care Solihull from the West Midlands; Space
from Suffolk; and the Children’s Society in Medway from Kent. We
asked young people who were attached to these projects if they
would be interested in working with us,” Osborne says. “We decided
early on to try to produce the results using multi-media resources.
We wanted to include the views of as many young people as possible
and multi-media meant we could do so in a variety of ways,
including songs, poems and drama productions.”

After the local consultations were complete, each area produced its
own CD. These were then collated and edited into the final version
of Ask Us! using the most powerful messages from the different
groups. The final version was launched last Easter.

There were a lot of comments about disability and how it feels. On
the wish-list was access to play and leisure – the chance to do the
same things as other young people their age. “Disabled children and
young people won’t settle for people making decisions for them now
that they have seen in Ask Us! that they can get their message
across themselves,” says Osborne.

She believes everybody working with disabled young people should
view the CD. “People watching the CD can’t help but feel it has
such a powerful impact because it is young disabled people telling
you what they are concerned about. It’s in your face and it forces
people to challenge the way they think.”

Ask Us! includes the voices of all young people involved, even if
those voices are not easy to understand. “There are a lot of
different disabled people who speak and in some cases you have to
listen really carefully to hear what they are saying,” says
Osborne. “We had a lot of debate about how slick the CD needed to
be and how important it was to hear the views of the young people.
We wanted to get the message across that you need to allow and
encourage disabled young people to take part themselves even if the
result isn’t quite as polished as the usual promotional

Such was the success of the first CD that the Department of Health
commissioned the Children’s Society to produce a second, which
Osborne expects to launch this year.

Winning the Community Care award marked a high point in
the year for everyone involved in Ask Us!. Osborne says: “I can’t
describe the elation that was felt, particularly by the two young
people who attended the ceremony. There was a huge sense of pride
and achievement in winning the award. All the projects that
contributed will have an opportunity to have the trophy for a
while, and the young researchers will be given a chance to take it
home to share their achievements with their friends and

Matthew Parkin, one of the young people involved in Ask Us! at the
ceremony, says: “The project has meant I have been able to become
involved in work I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to
do, and I have learned a lot from it.”

He hopes that the project’s success will make professionals take a
long, hard look at how services for disabled young people are
planned. “I think they should be working with disabled people to
get their views – I haven’t seen that happen anywhere except

Osborne emphasises, however, that the award, while a welcome
recognition of the work everyone has done, would mean more to the
young people if it had the power to change their day-to-day
experiences. “For some time our work with disabled children has
highlighted that, although there have been important new
developments, the everyday experience of many disabled children and
young people hasn’t changed a great deal.” What is tricky, she
says, and therefore more difficult to change, is that so many of
the messages from young people are about the attitudes of others
and discrimination.

Osborne says: “There are long-term strategies about education. We
welcome the fact that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has
been extended to include education – and more disabled children are
educated in mainstream schools. What’s particularly difficult for
an organisation like the Children’s Society is when you hear that
for many disabled young people the experience of being in
mainstream education is painful. Although we would support the
principle of inclusion in mainstream education, we have to take
account of the fact that many young people tell us they are
bullied, left out and are not getting the education they

“For this group of children to be part of something that has
achieved this sort of national recognition doesn’t happen often. I
can’t overstate what it has meant to them. I would still want to
say that some of the young people who have been involved from the
outset are still saying that they want to see change on the

“For them the difference will be that they can do something except
just being stuck at home all day when they leave school – even
having the opportunity to go out and do things with other young
people, and not just their parents, doing the things that other
young people do.” 

– The disability category was sponsored by Cooper Stanley.

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