The true worth of a society

“The true worth of a society can be judged by the way it treats its least member.” – Ghandi.

All indications are that we can expect budgetary cuts in a bid to reduce the national debt. Central and local government are under pressure to reduce spending. So understandably, transport for school aged disabled and other disadvantaged users will come under scrutiny. But are children with disabilities less valuable to society, hence their education secondary?

Visiting Africa, I could not help but be taken aback by the manner in which disabled people are treated. Eventually, I came to terms with their issues of poverty and deprivation. When resources are thin all round, budgets that often get slashed tend to affect the poorest or most vulnerable. The result is a downgrading of that society.

If, in the UK our drive to reduce the deficit, forces significant reductions, in spending on Special Education Needs transport, we need to pause and reflect. Resources that are invested in enabling disabled and other vulnerable children to attend school and live with some dignity, enable Britain to remain a strong nation and separates us from the countries that do not.

We were requested to transport a severely autistic boy whose parents wanted him to continue to live within their family setting. Whilst there was wide acknowledgement that the benefits from attending school and living at home would be substantial, getting him to school was proving problematic as he would regularly attack the mini-cab drivers and attendants who attempted to transport him.

Excel was called in by the local LEA as a last ditch attempt to keep the boy within the family setting yet regularly attend school. The first day we went to carry out the risk assessment, it was easy to see why he posed a physical threat to the road team. Although just 14, he was already almost 6ft and looked quite athletic. Just by him waving his long arms could easily give an attendant a black eye or a swollen lip. It was also clear to see why he was considered untransportable.

Our approaches do not focus purely on disabilities but rather, we choose to build on dismantling the structures and situations that could hinder this young man from accessing his education and transport. Following on from Excel’s risk assessment carried out by our very experienced and compassionate team, we structured a transport response.

The aim was to enable him to enter the transport of his own volition. That approach was consistent with our service aims. Eventually, we enabled him travel to in the transport without hurting the team or trying to escape. His family were appreciative and the school supportive. Finally he began thriving as a student trying to achieve his full potential without being separated from his family.

The cost of that transport solution cannot be compared with the cost of a mini-cab or black taxi. And therein lay the dilemma. Should services that offer bespoke solutions be phased out or should the qualifying criteria be more stringent? Such difficult choices can only be made in the wider context of our humanity and history.

India during the time of Ghandi and for many decades after, remained a very poor country, but as its investment in education and health grew, their economy eventually grew. Now no one can question India’s influence on world economics and politics. So it would appear that investing in the least of our society, when done in tandem with the right service providers, can yield economic rewards.

Miguel Villarino.

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