Cycling for disabled children

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It’s independence, it’s exercise, it’s socialising, it’s exploring, it’s relaxing, it’s exciting, it’s practical and it’s fun, says Kate Ball.

Cycling can provide all sorts of options for disabled children: It can be a great social activity, but it can also be physical therapy and can provide a calming head space, especially if it’s possible to cycle to and from frequently stressful places such as school.

As disabled children grow up, their mobility options may be more limited than for non-disabled people: We know that disabled adults make 38% fewer journeys than non-disabled adults. Cycling can provide an extra option to make journeys quickly, comfortably and conveniently for many people—especially important for those who don’t drive and who can’t use walking, wheeling, public transport or private taxis to make all the trips they want to.

Cycling isn’t just about transport, or just about lycra: There are loads of ways to take part in and enjoy cycling—and all are equally valid. Many people enjoy cycling in a safe, enclosed, traffic-free environment once, a few times, or each week for many years. Others want to explore further—and after finding a cycle which works for them, choose to take part in led rides around the local area.

Sports cycling can happen in traffic-free spaces such as velodrome cycling, or can involve getting out to explore on and off road. Then of course many people want to ride independently and from their own home for everyday journeys like shopping, visits to friends, school, work and appointments.

It can be difficult for a disabled child and their family to work out which cycles will work for them, especially if a child perhaps isn’t going to follow the socially-expected route to riding. We’re all used to the idea that children will start riding either on tiny trikes, balance bikes or with stabilisers, and that by age five or so they’ll be able to ride around on two wheels, more or less in control and able to make generally safe decisions. This is often not the trajectory of how disabled children learn to ride. Some need more time to learn, some need different cycle types, some need ongoing help with decision-making or to ride a multi-person cycle such as a tandem with a pilot, and some need a combination of all these.

Learning to cycle as a disabled person can mean you need quite a bit more information and a lot more time to investigate, whatever cycling types your child wants to take part in (and that includes if you as a parent want to use cycling for transport—which is every bit as valid a choice as transporting your children any other way).

One of the big barriers to cycling for growing disabled children especially is the upfront cost. While many disabled children will ride standard bicycles, others may need adaptations or cycle types which are less easily available and which may be very expensive. There are some grant-making organisations which may be able to help with costs, or for young people and adults starting apprenticeships, work experience or placements for at least one hour per week, Access to Work may be able to fund a cycle to travel to a workplace. If you don’t have suitable secure cycle parking, local authorities and housing providers may provide secure cycle parking near your home, including secure on-road cycle hangars.

Nobody has to cycle. People who cycle sometimes, don’t have to cycle all the time. What we’re working for is a society where every disabled child and adult has the option to choose a cycle which suits them, a safe, accessible and convenient place to store it, and safe, accessible places to ride—so we all have the choice to cycle if, when and where we want.

Kate Ball
Author: Kate Ball

Kate Ball
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Kate Ball she/her Campaigns and Policy Officer

Website: wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk
X: @Wheels4Well
Facebook: @Wheels4Well

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