Parents’ exclusion zone

Case Study

The names of the family have been changed

Situation: Robin and Sally
Madigan, like most parents, are keen to sort out school
arrangements for their two-year-old daughter, Natasha, who will be
going to primary school in September 2007. Robin is a wheelchair
user with impaired sight, while Sally is registered blind and has
impaired hearing.
Problem: The Madigans live in a remote, rural part
of a large county but they are close to a respected primary school,
which is the only one for some miles. But it is also
oversubscribed. Robin and Sally are not only keen for Natasha (who
is able-bodied) to attend but want to play an active part in her
education also. They feel that, because the school can be choosy,
its unhelpful and negative attitudes and inaccessible buildings and
communication are, in effect, excluding them. All school
information is in written form (no Braille or large print is
available) and, although Robin has some sight, it is deteriorating
and it does sometimes fail completely. At a recent open day Robin 
was partly excluded because the school is two-storey and has no
lighting or colour contrasting. Also, parking outside the school by
other interested parents obscured the dropped  kerbs so their car
could not be parked nearby. Indeed, transport also seems a
potential  problem – it is available for disabled children only,
not the parents.

Panel Responses

Stuart Drabble
Because of the remote rural location, Natasha should
already meet the school’s criteria for accepting her placement as a
local student.
Also, because of their disabilities, Robin and Sally are limited on
transport, which could cause difficulties if Natasha were placed
further away. The school should therefore give them special
consideration. The Human Rights Act 1998 would suggest that Robin
and Sally’s “right to normal family life” would be compromised if
Natasha were refused a place at her local school.

The school cannot legally discriminate against Natasha on the
grounds of her parent’s disabilities, as this would contravene the
Disability Discrimination Act 1995. A social worker or voluntary
sector advocate could support the family in challenging
discrimination. Also under the act, the school has a responsibility
to provide access and to make reasonable adjustments for parents
visiting the school for parents’ evenings, open days and so on. The
school, as a public building, must provide parking and access for
wheelchair users – and reasonable adjustments for people with
sensory disabilities would not be costly or difficult to

To meet Robin and Sally’s sensory needs, the school may need to
take advice from a specialist social worker or rehabilitation
officer. It would be possible for the school to provide a fixed
loop system in meeting rooms and reception which would allow Sally
to participate more effectively in meetings or discussions. A
portable loop system could be provided if other areas of the school
were to be used. Providing contrasting and suitable lighting for
Robin and Sally’s sight impairment needs could be achieved easily
and inexpensively if advice was sought and the provision of a staff
member on open evenings to guide or provide directions for the
couple would be an effective way to meet their needs.

A huge challenge for people with sensory impairment is accessing
information. The school has a clear legal responsibility to
communicate with Robin and Sally in a way that includes them in
decision-making about their daughter’s future. The school should
work in partnership with sensory specialists to find out what
method of communication the couple prefer, and could use Braille,
large print or taped messages.

Julie Heath
Derbyshire uses an outcomes-focused assessment framework developed
with the social policy research unit at York University. This work
is to be fed back to the Department of Health.

Outcomes are not services, needs or wants but are results, goals
and achievements. This approach enshrines the social model of
disability in practice, with explicit focus on access to desired
outcomes rather than focus on individual functional

The benefits of the framework could be seen clearly in this case.
Within an assessment of Robin and Sally’s needs a worker would have
considered issues regarding their autonomy, including access to
their locality and wider environment and communication aids. Social
participation is another field in the framework and would routinely
address areas relating to support in parenting roles, advocacy,
peer support and citizenship.

Together we look at what the service user wants to achieve in their
life and their long-term goal. In this instance Robin and Sally
wish to fully participate in making decisions about Natasha’s
education. Staff and service users negotiate which desired outcomes
social services can assist with. Some of the outcomes may be
outside our remit or the service user may not be eligible for
support under the Fair Access to Care criteria. However, outcomes
are still valid and are recorded within care plans.

Robin and Sally may feel they would benefit from involvement with
peer support – a service provided here by the Derbyshire Centre for
Integrated Living – as they may find that there are other disabled
parents who are experiencing the same difficulties. As well as
providing support the centre may also take on a “lobbying” role
with the education department.

The experiences of the Madigan family could be shared with
Derbyshire’s disability partnership board; its membership includes
representatives from social services, primary care teams and
voluntary organisations, including groups working with people with
a sensory impairment, the centre and carers. In line with the
philosophy of the Social Services Inspectorate (now Commission for
Social Care Inspection) report, Independence Matters, issues of
importance to disabled people can be raised at the partnership
board and dealt with corporately by the council’s departments.

User View 

It’s a pity that this situation needs to be dealt with immediately:
the government has promised an extension to the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995, to include public services such as
education. When this comes into force, it could be argued that
parents will be consumers of education services and will have a
right to full access under the act, writes Simon Heng. 

Even so, part of each school’s rigorous inspection processes should
include an audit of its efforts at social inclusion and
accessibility. If the school is accessible for disabled pupils,
then it will be accessible for disabled parents. 

I wonder what the parents mean by the word “choosy”. It would seem
unlikely that candidates are chosen on the basis of class, needs or
ability – it’s more likely that, if the school were oversubscribed
and needed to whittle down its applications, selection would be on
the basis of proximity or whether the child had a sibling at the
school. Perhaps the parents’ first step should be to arrange to
discuss the circumstances and the admissions policy with the head
teacher and also what facilities the school offered for parents
with special needs. 

The school’s inaccessibility may be due to a lack of awareness
rather than deliberate policy. Ditto  the “unhelpful and negative
attitudes”. It may be  that the school would welcome a chance to
review  its facilities and policies by focusing on this  particular

As a wheelchair-using parent, my experience has been positive. My
children’s schools have attempted to be as helpful as possible. A
wheelchair-accessible room is set aside for meetings, a parking
space reserved for my vehicle and someone is assigned to show me
the most accessible route. My guess is that, if I had communication
problems, materials would be produced in accessible formats on
request. Some people may argue that facilities and communications
should be universally accessible at all times, but we don’t live in
a perfect world (yet). 

Robin and Sally probably need another assessment of the help they
require from social services. They may be entitled to extra help to
get Natasha to and from school, or social services might negotiate
for Natasha to have a place on the school bus. 

Although it is nearly three years before Natasha is due to start
school, Robin and Sally are right to anticipate potential
difficulties and attempt to resolve them before a solution is
forced upon them. 

Simon Heng is a Community Care columnist  and a disabled
service user

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