While on the subject of discrimination…

5 May

… As of course I just have been, speaking about maternity rights, I wanted to highlight this individual example of how unbending bureaucracy and rigid adherence to rules, not the needs of human beings, will cause not only distress, but also risks forcing a brilliant young person to think differently about himself.

My friend’s son, now aged 12, started at secondary school in September, like thousands and thousands of other eleven year olds. Equally, like thousands and thousands of eleven year olds, the school’s about eight miles away so he has transport arranged to take him to and from the school. He has Downs Syndrome, but thanks to his own attitude and that of his parents, this is not the defining factor of his life. Sadly I have not met the lad in person, but from Facebook posts from his mum one thing that’s very clear is that the defining factor of his life is all the things he can and does do – drama, hanging out with friends, learning at school – which are identical to those thousands and thousands of eleven year olds I referenced previously.

For very good reasons, as a result of a risk assessment he travels to school in a minibus, on which for the moment there are no other kids, simply because no other kids in that area right now need it.

So there’s lots of room in that minibus.

On the main school bus, there is usually sufficient room so that when one of the kids travelling on that bus wants to bring a friend home, they pay £2, and that friend travels as well. So my friend’s son wanted to pay his £2 and bring a friend home with him, too. Like everyone else. And the answer from the council was – you’ve probably guessed it – no. Because apparently no-one else is insured to travel in this spacious transport option bar my friend’s son and the driver. It is – this makes me so angry on their behalf – ‘against policy’.

So this lad who never considers himself disabled or different, because of the work his parents and others have done to make this so, now at the age of eleven, only eleven, is being told by the system that unlike everyone else he cannot invite a friend back from school, because he is ‘different’ to the others. Previously, why would he think that? Now, because of their blinkered actions, thoughtless discrimination and refusal to look at the circumstances of an individual person, the risk is that ‘different’ – negatively – is how he will start to feel.

It is horrible and it is wrong and it is thoughtless. It is unthinkable that a child able to manage happily in a secondary school with all his peers is suddenly told that actually, usual rules do not apply. I wanted to highlight this firstly to say to his inspiring parents: anyone who thinks ‘people first’ is outraged by this treatment of your son, and you are right to fight this all the way, you will find waves of support wherever you turn.

But secondly to highlight that we – collectively, including local councils and other public bodies who I appreciate are constrained by budgetary and other requirements – must think first about the effect that rules and regulations have on people before these rules and regulations are set in stone. Ask questions, consider scenarios, talk to service users… Just look at the human element before you apply a cost to the service you deliver. As a country we run a risk of becoming utterly enslaved to available budget coupled with risk aversion (I refer to my previous post for a macro application of this principle) and every individual has a responsibility to apply ‘people first’ to their own activities in order to counteract this insidious trend.

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