Voices: In this killer heat, disabled kids should be able to stay off school

·3-min read

The next time someone says, “Oh, isn’t the weather lovely?” I’m going to explode. Disability and heat just don’t mix. At all. I’d go so far as to say it’s worse than the cold for me. And I’m including that real biting, freezing cold that we don’t often see in these days of catastrophic global climate emergency.

Heat sends my type one autoimmune diabetes up the wall. My paralysed foot blows up like a balloon. The chronic pain I suffer from grows more chronic and more painful. Sleep? Don’t make me laugh.

But here’s the thing. At least I can work from home where I can put on a fan and arrange things to make me more comfortable. Sometimes I put an ice cube on my head. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still bad. I’m currently missing The Independent’s air-conditioned offices. But it could be worse.

For some people it is. Disabled kids, for example, are forced onto buses or into taxis for journeys into hothouse schools. Seizures, you say? Triggered by hot weather, are they? Children biting and lashing out because they’re non verbal and have no other way to express their distress, huh? That didn’t matter when I was young. We had to learn, whatever the weather. And nothing much has changed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the government said: “You want money for air conditioning now? Stop being so spoilt! You’ll have to wait, probably forever.” Even the American phrase “sorry ass” really doesn’t cut it for our current government and its antediluvian attitudes.

This will not do. There’s an ongoing discussion at the moment about when it simply gets too hot to work, and although a committee of MPs is urging an upper limit of 30C – which will comfortably be breached next weekthere is no law. But what employees do have that pupils and students don’t is this: “Employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, sometimes known as thermal comfort.”

Hopefully the fact that “employees” covers teachers and support staff may mean we can rely on them to kick up a fuss on behalf of the children. Because this abominable heat is going to cause some serious health problems for some seriously disabled kids.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. We should give parents the option to keep their kids at home on the hottest days of the year if that’s where they will be better off. This would then free up staff – who have to perform heroics in these conditions – to focus on looking after those kids whose parents are working and have to be in school. It’s a win, win situation.

While we’re talking common sense, let’s extend this to all of our children, disabled or not. These are not conditions in which any learning is going to get done. Look, we’re now just a week from the summer break in England and Wales, and schools are starting to wind down anyway. The way my daughter looks at me in the mornings after a run of disturbed nights, it’s borderline cruelty to force her to go in. But legally we have to.

It’s time to do something (whisper it) liberal. Make school optional during the hottest few days of the year. Give them some homework if you’re really desperate to make them suffer; otherwise, give them a break.

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