As we reach the end of our 50th birthday year, we’re reflecting on the past and looking to the future. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities is about the inclusion of disabled people in Covid recovery. KIDS adapted fast to continue to provide services throughout the pandemic. Last year we provided over 190,000 hours of support, over 30,000 of which were virtual. We learnt that with simple groundwork, decent connection and access to a device that was suitable for that person, opportunities would open up.

What is stark is how disabled people have been impacted most by Covid. Most of the children who died with Covid were disabled. Disabled children and young people have gone without therapy, support and diagnosis since lockdowns began. Health conditions have worsened as vital health services were delayed, and research by the Disabled Children’s Partnership earlier this year, found over 70% of disabled children were still unable to access pre-pandemic levels of therapies and health services.

As lockdowns eased disabled children and young people continued to be left behind, their needs and voices left unheard. With new variants emerging, children who are clinically extremely vulnerable continue to live with severe restrictions in their lives.

KIDS is generating a new strategy for 2022-27 that responds directly to the voices of disabled children, young people and their families. We’ve heard that they want more of a say in how they live their lives, they want to be celebrated for what they CAN do, and have equal opportunities to live a fulfilled and joyful life.

Disabled young people told us they want a world where every disabled child and young person is respected, recognised and included

We heard that disabled young people wanted to be able to access educational and employment as well as social opportunities. They told us that both the online and physical spaces could be made more accessible and equal. They shared their passion for equality and diversity.

We’ve worked with families since John Mulcahy, a teacher and our founder became concerned about the development of a disabled child in one of his classes.

“He did not participate in lessons and he did not disrupt them. Nobody took any notice of him. No one there had the skills to help that boy and no one wanted to acquire them.”

Looking to improve communication with the child, John turned to the child’s mother for guidance. This sowed the seeds of working in partnership with parents and carers to enable disabled children and young people to develop their skills and abilities and to fulfil their potential.

This year, bringing that essential part of KIDS up to the present day, we worked with disabled children, young people and their families to understand how digital technology was working for them. With lockdowns throwing us all into a reliance on digital connectivity we found that, once again, straightforward adaptations weren’t being made or children were not able to access technology at all. In some cases digital spaces were more inclusive and accessible, preventing isolation and loneliness, enabling some people to socialise where they’d previously been unable to meet physically. We produced our ‘Locked Out’ report with a raft of recommendations to create a more inclusive digital world, working in partnership the Disabled Children’s Partnership (funded by the Pears Learning Hub, a collaboration between Pears Foundation and the Disabled Children’s Partnership )

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities recognises the stark impact of the pandemic on disabled people of all ages. Importantly it focuses attention on disabled people’s rights and needs during the recovery. By listening to the voices of disabled children, young people and their families, understanding the lasting effects of Covid and working alongside them to co-design future services, we can do justice to their ambitions and support them to realise their same rights and opportunities as everyone else.