Caithness Access Panel teaches awareness in schools by engaging – not just telling

Over the years, Caithness Access Panel and disabled groups in their community have been visiting schools to teach disability awareness. They bring along special equipment and their most important asset: lived experience earned and shared by disabled people. Using those educational tools, they simulate various disabilities from shaky hands to being unable to sit down.

“Giving a long talk never works,” says Helen Budge, the Access Panel’s representative. She explained that by “trying out” disabilities themselves, children get a perspective on how their relatives and school peers feel having them.

“We have found that the school kids love it. They love getting the idea of how people feel when they’re disabled, and how they can help.”

Helen also added that excitement for these visits is mutual. While children enjoy the fun activity that opens a whole new world for them, the Access Panel learns, too. Some equipment turns out to be imperfect in use, letting the members know what they need to repair or replace.

So far, Caithness Access Panel and disability groups have worked with the first and second year students. Even the fifth years were very keen on using the equipment, particularly because they study engineering. It is a huge success and feedback from both the students and their schools is overwhelmingly positive.

Among other things, the Access Panel has also been running a Disabled Toilet Award scheme. The name is self-explanatory and alludes to the process where a disabled person grades up toilets in their vicinity.

When the toilet wasn’t given the highest award, the Access Panel would find out the reasons why people were upset. Then, keeping up with the momentum, they upgraded those toilets as soon as possible. All the work done by disabled members has been done thanks to the grants that supported the implementation.

“Publicity was really good!” says Helen. “And the local Tesco put in a toilet with hoists, changing beds and other things… We have also opened a disabled bird hide, so that it’s accessible to everyone and their relatives.”

At the moment, Caithness Access Panel is planning to put access into a local famous beach. They need mats, huts, wheelchairs and so on to make that plan come to reality. Helen is also working with the local council officer to open up a road down to the beach.