Reporter 447, 21 February 2000

Giving a voice to disabled children

Disabled children are to get a rare chance to talk directly with people who make decisions about the services they receive at a pioneering conference organised by the Universityís Disability Research Unit, Leeds City Council, Leeds Centre for Integrated Living and Leeds Childrenís Rights Office.

Twenty local young disabled people are to take part, alongside twenty adults who work for the education department, social services and the health authority. The aim of the conference, at Leeds Unitedís Elland Road ground on Thursday (February 24), is to bring service planners and providers face to face, on equal terms, with the people they serve.

The conference was inspired by research at Leeds and Edinburgh universities which showed just how much disabled children have to say about their lives and how strongly they feel about the way things should change. Dr Mark Priestley, of sociology and social policy, will present key findings from the study.

There will also be small group sessions on important topics to young disabled people, such as leaving school, going out and friends and relationships. Each workshop will be led by someone who experienced a disabled childhood themselves.

"Research is useful when it helps to change things in the real world, and this conference will certainly help to do that for disabled children in Leeds," said Dr Priestley.

"Disabled children have been left out of research and policy in the past, and thatís why this day is so important. Parents and professionals are usually the ones who get listened to. One of the aims of our research was to publicise what young disabled people really think, and to recognise that they are the real experts on their own lives."

The children involved in the project decided what they wanted to talk about. This showed they were much less interested in the medical side of disability and much more concerned about their social lives, about disability access and about other peopleís attitudes.

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