Two children having fun at the house

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Top 5 ways you can make your home, business, or school more accessible for children

by Jack, our Activities Manager at the House

In this blog:

Most families don’t have to think twice about taking their children out for the day, whether that’s going to the cinema, eating out at a restaurant, or visiting a zoo. But for families with children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, these fun days out can become complicated and frustrating due to poorly designed and inaccessible spaces.

Why are accessible spaces for children so hard to find?

It’s estimated that there are 14.6 million disabled people in the UK, with 9% of children being disabled. So, why are accessible spaces for children so hard to find? All too often, places take a one-size fits all approach to making their space accessible, but there’s a huge range between everyone’s physical and mental abilities so spaces need to be designed with the user in mind. 

What does accessibility mean for children with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses?

All children and young people should have the opportunity to live life to the full and experience the things that others do, no matter how complex their needs. When a space is fully accessible, children and young people are empowered, can be independent and won’t be frustrated by a space that is poorly designed.

How to make your space more accessible for children

I’ve been organising trips out in the community for children and young people at Chestnut Tree House for quite some time now, and these are the key takeaways I’d want all businesses to know about making their spaces truly accessible.

Accessible toilets

It’s a common misconception that having a disabled toilet makes somewhere accessible – but this is far from the truth! Making a toilet stall slightly larger isn’t a solution for lots of the children and young people we care for.

Without a suitable changing bench, many disabled people have to be laid on the floor to be changed. This is undignified, unhygienic and puts parents and carers at risk of injury. Without a hoist in the toilets, parents and carers are forced to manually transfer a disabled person who is unable to self-transfer between a wheelchair and the toilet, again, putting them at risk.

TIP: If spatially and financially possible, install a Changing Places facility. These are fully accessible toilets, that have the right equipment, including a changing bench and a hoist, designed to support disabled people who need assistance.

We recently held our first 18+ social at a venue in Brighton – it was a roaring success. We had four young lads attend, some of them trying cocktails for the very first time. There was lots of chatting and laughing and the boys all said they would like to do more and had lots of ideas for what we could do next. We went to one of the few bars that could cater to our needs as they had a Changing Places toilet facility.

Happy child in a wheelchair

Wheelchair accessibility

This might seem obvious, but many places do not have enough seating or space for wheelchair users to move around in. It’s important to have as much space as possible in between furniture in your venue, making it as easy as possible for wheelchair users to navigate their way around buildings.

For spaces such as cinemas, theatres, or restaurants it’s important to have seating reserved for disabled people and their parents or carers in a good viewing location.

TIP: When designing your space, think about where the best position to put an accessible seat is for the user, not the most convenient position for the space.

Have a quiet room

Sometimes the world can become overwhelming for children and young people with sensory issues. But having a dedicated quiet room gives them somewhere away from noise and lights, somewhere to go and relax, be calm and just have a quiet moment.

Many of the children and young people we care for are fed through a tube, require oxygen, or other medical interventions. A quiet room also provides a space for parents and carers to meet any medical needs in a private and safe environment.

TIP: Whilst a separate room is ideal, you might not have enough space for one, so this could be a partially screened off area of another room.

Think about sensory requirements

Many of the children that we care for have severe complex needs, and some may have limited senses, such as visual impairments or hearing difficulties. To create a sensory friendly environment, think about the following:

  • Visual: Avoid harsh, bright lighting, and bright, clashing colours or busy patterns.
  • Sound: Keep background music and loud noises to a minimum. If these are unavoidable, think about allowing the use of ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones.
  • Smell: Avoid strong smells such as air fresheners, harsh cleaning products and strong-smelling candles. Again, if these are unavoidable think about putting up warning signs in areas that are strong smelling.

And finally…

Talk to us! If we visit your space, please ask for some feedback! We might be able to give you ideas for future improvements and developments and help to make your space as accessible as possible and enjoyable for children and young people with life-limiting and life-shortening conditions.

Jack as a Pirate!

About the author

Jack has extensive experience working with children and young people with music and drama. Previously touring Italy and running workshops with children and young people of all ages and abilities before joining Chestnut Tree House as our Activities Leader.

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