Health and safety “gone mad”: Blind Bristol girl banned from using walking cane in primary school
Source: Bristol Post by Michael Yong November 17, 2015 + Updates
A blind girl has been banned from bringing her walking cane to school for “health and safety” reasons. Lily-Grace Hooper, who is seven, suffered a stroke when she was just four days old, which left her virtually blind.
But her school, Hambrook Primary School, has now told the youngster she can no longer use her walking cane, because it could trip up teachers and other pupils at the school.
A risk assessment by Gary Learmonth from Sensory Support Service – done on behalf of the school – said the cane caused a high risk to other people around Lily-Grace, and that she should instead have full adult support “100 per cent” at all times.
But her furious mother, Kristy, is worried her daughter will become to dependent on having someone show her around, and said having a helper following her around will set her daughter apart from the rest of the pupils.
LATEST UPDATE: From Kristy Hooper via Facebook: “It’s a stalemate.”
Kristy Hooper I am the lucky Mummy of Lily-Grace. I will fight for her right to inclusion! We may have the world’s support but not her classmates. Terribly sad situation. She has missed a whole week of school through no fault of her own. I have reached out to the head with hope of resolution. We have stalemate! There is a petition up please, please sign and support just use #LilyGraceHooper to find thank you all for your continued support xx Or find her page here https://m.facebook.com/Lily-Grace-1413976252233173/
You can also click on the banner at the bottom of this page to sign the Petition.
Lily-Grace suffered a stroke days after she was born. As a result she lost her 3D vision, and became blind in her right eye. She can now only see lights and colours in her left.
Shortly before Christmas last year, she started using long wrapping paper rolls to help her get around the house after stumbling across them.
Since then, she had asked her mum for a stick for Christmas. The seven-year-old was given a long fibre-glass walking cane by Common Sense Cane, a charity for blind children earlier this year.
Lily-Grace started using the cane in school in April. Kristy said it had become “an extension of her daughter’s arm” and that it was vital she was allowed to use it.
She added: “It is a disability, but I want to celebrate it and make sure she can become independent.
“When the school told me she can no longer bring her cane into school, I just thought this must be health and safety gone mad.
“She hasn’t had any problems with any of the other students, and none of the parents have complained about it – in fact, they have all been very supportive.
“I don’t understand where the school is coming from. Lily-Grace has taken to the cane very quickly, and she needs it as she travels to school, walks to the playground, or just being in school.”
She added: “I am absolutely livid. What about the health and safety of my girl? I like school, they are a good school, but this really is very poor advice.
Leading charity for vision-impaired children, Blind Children UK, said it was imperative a child learned independence from a young age.
A spokesman said: “Using a cane teaches a child to keep themselves safe and can help them to become less reliant on others.
“Early intervention is vital to help a child with sight loss move around more confidently and grow towards greater independence as an adult.
“While a cane may not be suitable for every child or young person with sight loss, if they are taught how to use it by a trained habilitation specialist, then, in general, there shouldn’t be an issue with using one safely around school.”
The risk assessment said Lily-Grace should have full adult support at all times, and that she should use the hand rails to get about.
She also has been asked to “walk carefully over all surfaces” especially paving stones and wet drain covers – but without the use of her current cane.
Instead the risk assessment wants her to use a shortened cane, something her parents say is not suitable because she had become used to her current cane.
Hambrook Primary School’s head teacher, Jo Dent, said they would discuss the situation with Kristy.
She said: “The school’s mobility officer raised health and safety issues around the new cane following a recent risk assessment.
“We have to consider all of our pupils, so it is important that we have an opportunity to discuss the situation before we make any decisions.
“We are very keen to resolve this issue as soon as possible and have been actively seeking to engage with the parent to bring this to an agreeable conclusion.
“The pupil has not been banned from bringing in their cane, we have simply asked them to not use it around school as a temporary measure, until we have the chance to meet with the parent and discuss the situation.
“It was initially hoped that we would have this resolved within a day or two.”
UPDATE: Regulator rubbishes ‘health and safety’ claims which denied blind Bristol girl her white cane
Geoff Cox, who heads the HSE’s public sector team, also works with schools on safety.
He said: “There is nothing in health and safety regulations that would ban a child using a walking stick in school, or anywhere else for that matter.
“In cases like these people need to sit down and work out sensible and proportionate arrangements that will work in practice. I hope common sense prevails here.
“This is an example of someone using it the wrong way. I’ve never heard of it before.
“Children have to grow up to live independently and find their own way, and other children have to learn to live in a society where there are people with disabilities and how to give them space or help them.”
He hopes the school will now work with charity Blind Children UK so they can come to a solution.