It really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
The excitement, cheer and the endless festive fun oozing from the high streets to our homes, is undeniably infectious.
This merriment is especially magical for children, who unlike the more cynical of us, still enjoy the thought of Father Christmas visiting, or visualise those elves working on gifts that will soon be under our trees.
Today, however, I want to open your eyes to what Christmas can be like for disabled children - those who may be missing out on experiences that I believe are a rite of passage in their childhoods.
One of these children is my daughter, Emily.
Emily is 11, she has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Like most young girls her age, she absolutely loves Christmas. Of course, the magic of the 25th and the events leading up to it are special for our whole family, but there’s nothing like seeing the excitement through her eyes.
The very sad thing about Christmas for children like Emily is that there are so many places and events created for young people like her to enjoy, that she is unable to access in her wheelchair.
We stopped trying to see Santa in his grotto a long time ago. Not only did Saint Nick and his elves tell us there was no wheelchair access, we also learnt there was nowhere suitable for Emily to take some time out and have a rest if she needed it either.
When Emily was younger we realised that many toy shops, with their glittering Christmas displays, could not accommodate wheelchairs. To see her disappointed face, has been an unhappy, yet predictable experience for our family.
Winter fairs have proven to be more wheelchair friendly when it comes to access, but then it’s likely they won’t have any accessible rides for disabled children inside – meaning Emily misses out on the fun once again. We are left feeling helpless in the wake of our daughter’s disappointment.
This year has been no different.
Last year, a giant snow globe arrived in our local shopping centre for children to go inside, play and enjoy themselves. There is however a huge barrier in the way – Emily’s wheelchair cannot get up the steps to the attraction itself.
Very sadly, new research from the disability charity Scope shows that 43% of disabled children have been turned away from a festive event. There are 900,000 disabled families in the UK, so that’s a huge number of children potentially excluded from joining in on festive fun.
It’s heart-breaking to watch your child feel excluded and unable to take part in the same activities and fun as her peers. This kind of exclusion can be very isolating for her at the best of times, but it just seems so much tougher at Christmas.
Scope research also revealed that two in five (38%) parents say their disabled children ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ has an opportunity to socialise and mix with children who are not disabled. Sadly, I’m not shocked by this.
I’m writing this in a bid to shed some light on what life can be like for disabled children and their families, especially at Christmas. I’m also hoping event organisers, shops and anyone at the forefront of children’s festive fun will take the time to read it.
Please think about the children that want to join in, but can’t.
Think about how you can help them overcome this.
A little change here and there might make all the difference to a disabled child’s Christmas.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year from our family to yours!