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Tabatha’s story – Disability Pride Month

It’s Disability Pride Month! As always, we’re celebrating the two million children and young people in England living with special educational needs and disabilities. They are all brilliantly unique.

Tabatha (Tabs) is our brilliant Youth Voice Coordinator working as part of Kids’ National Youth Team, a group they had previously attended as a young person. Here they share their journey as a person with SEND finding employment at Kids, and empowering young people with disabilities to speak up.

Meet Tabs

I’m Tabs. I’m a Youth Voice Coordinator working as part of the National Youth Team. I also have ASD, ADHD, hypermobility fibromyalgia and progressive bilateral hearing loss, and I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user.

I initially attended Kids’ youth groups as a young person with SEND. I was later given the opportunity to volunteer, and this led to me becoming a Sessional Assistant Practitioner with our play and leisure services when I was 18.

Kids supported me to undertake a relevant level 3 qualification while I was still attending some services as a young person. I worked hard to develop the skills to become a Sessional Practitioner. While this was great, an amazing opportunity came up in the form of a vacancy for Senior Practitioner within the Young People’s Engagement Group – the same group that had presented so many opportunities to me in the past.

After deciding that the worst that could happen was they’d say no, I applied and was successful. I’ve spent the last seven years advocating and supporting others to share their thoughts and opinions, be heard and create lasting positive change in their lives, wider communities and on a national scale!

Tabs said:

“Our department is full of creative, passionate people who support each other. They recognise my strengths and weaknesses, and through collaboration with each other and with young people, we create methods and opportunities for lasting impact and change.”

What are three things you’re proud of within your role?

Limiting this to three is so tough, as every day there are things that make me proud. But if I had to choose…

  • Speaking at the Association of Colleges’ annual SEND conference.
    A young person and I spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND, following which I was approached by the Chair of the Association of Colleges (AOC). They asked me to be the guest of a conversation session on the intersectionality of SEND and other protected characteristics. That made me feel proud.
  • Supporting young people to run their own consultation on short breaks in the local area.
    This included them looking at the results and presenting them to a local authority officer – she was so impressed that she suggested we give a deputation at the select committee where evidence was being heard, following which a decision would be made. The young people even did a follow-up on what the changes would be and what that would look like for children, young people and their families.
  • The Collective.
    When we pivoted our groups online for the first lockdown, I was contacted by young people who had lost their outlet to have a voice. We were meeting online anyway, so I thought, what was the harm in letting a few extra people join us? The Collective grew over the lockdowns and beyond, and it now has representatives from all nine regions, plus people who want to join from Scotland and Wales. We have a reach through individual and group membership well into the hundreds.

    We were also part of the consultation development for the SEND Review and supported hundreds of young people to have their say. I believe we were one of the largest groups of young people to feed into the SEND Review, and this has led to continued engagement with the Department for Education (DfE), the improvement plan and the change programme.

What message do you want to share for Disability Pride Month?

Celebrate each other! Celebrate our individuality and differences! Celebrate the ‘I can!’

Everyone can have a voice – including those who are non-verbal. We just have to be creative with our methods and work collaboratively with young people and those who know them best. I know we’d love to get more young people from across the organisation involved in The Collective, and make a positive impact together.

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