Bristol primary school says seven-year-old pupil can no longer use her walking cane because it could trip up teachers and other children By Agency
17 Nov 2015
A blind girl has been banned from bringing her white walking stick to school because of “health and safety” reasons.
Lily-Grace Hooper, seven, suffered a stroke when she was just four days old, leaving her with virtually no sight.
But her school, Hambrook Primary School in Bristol, has told the youngster she can no longer use her cane because it could trip up teachers and other pupils.
A risk assessment completed on behalf of the school said the cane caused high risk to other people and that Lily-Grace should instead have “100 per cent” adult support at all times.
However, her mother is worried her daughter will become too dependent on having someone show her around – and said having a helper would set her daughter apart from other pupils.
“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”
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.
She asked her mother for a stick and 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. Her mother, Kristy Hooper, 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.”
Ms Hooper said: “I am absolutely livid. What about the health and safety of my girl? I like the school, they are a good school, but this really is very poor advice.
“It’s just ridiculous. If you took a walking cane away from a blind adult, you would say that was discrimination. It’s the same here.”
Sarah Murray, founder of Common Sense Canes, said: “I’m very supportive of Kristy, and what she’s facing is absolute nonsense from the school. A child needs to learn to be independent, and they need to start from a very young age.
“I’ve heard about this health and safety reasons, and I just cannot fathom what the school is thinking. Why are they taking a cane away from a little girl?”
She added the cane supplied to Lily-Grace was longer than usual to help her get about and also lighter than normal so it was suitable for a child.
Blind Children UK, the leading charity for vision-impaired children, 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 hand rails to navigate the school.
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.
“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”
head teacher Jo Dent
Instead, the risk assessment said she should use a shortened cane –
something her parents said is not suitable because she had become used to her current cane.
Hambrook Primary School head teacher Jo Dent 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.”