Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and throughout the week we will be promoting examples of the range of Inclusion work that takes place across our network and in our programmes.

Each day of London Youth Inclusion Week we will be posting new content on our website from our members, our outdoor centres and our programmes.

Today we spoke to Maggie Mendy, Disability Officer at Wac Arts, a London Youth member club, about their work with young people with a disability.

Tell us about your youth club

We run sessions for young people ranging from 11 to over 18s. From 4-6pm we have the 11-14 year olds as part of an after school club. In fact 10 young people are currently rehearsing for a show they are doing next week. From 6.30-8.30pm we also have Wac Arts Interactive which is a BBC Children in Need funded programme. Sport is also a part of our commissioning so we do provide those activities for the young people. That includes dance, boccia and football. We also have two table tennis tables which are both wheelchair accessible and we’re open to any sports that we think is viable.

Have you seen a positive impact on the young people who have taken part in the sessions?

Cause we do out of school that makes a big difference. They’re in an environment where it’s about fun and ensuring real progression including building independent skills, self-esteem, confidence, teamwork and working together as groups. We go out in the community quite a bit, do buddying and travel training and trying to make sure they’re not the invisible ones. Often it can be quite difficult because we see big steps but can’t always judge if it’s just us or because of something they’ve done in school. Sometimes progression is slight and can take quite a few years to really have an impact or be noticed because some are profoundly disabled with complex medical conditions and are non-verbal.

What are the biggest challenges your youth club has to overcome in getting young people with disabilities involved in physical activities and other opportunities?

What really hurts me is how invisible the young people are. For example we offertrampolining to groups and they have so much fun and we’re lucky one of the teachers is a physio so she can help with any other issues but those opportunities are always there for other young people. We also find that we have to set quite individual targets for young people because everyone has different needs. It’s often quite hard to set an overall target even though we have targets for group involvement but we do try to make sure it’s fun and try and run residentialprogrammes.

Our biggest thing is word of mouth because it’s important to build trust especially for parents. Young people are also referred to us if they meet certain criteria and we try to make the activities as interactive as possible. If some of the young people are high functioning then we try to bring them into more mainstream opportunities and groups and we’ve found that 19 percent of our whole student/young people cohort has a disability. We’re always open to working with other groups and organisationssuch Mencap but generally only if they are closely within our reach so groups in Camden, Islington and Westminster. We’ve worked with other local organisationssuch Elfrida and Shape. Also recently we had young footballer from Wac Arts who actually played for Crystal Palace’s Down’s syndrome team and has been to Switzerland with them over the summer.

How important is it for young people with disabilities to have opportunities like this?

In terms of health having sports in their life creates a lifelong thing and if you can get a young person interested in sport and gets them a little bit more active I feel we’ve done a good job. Sport brings so much including health, community involvement, friends and it’s about the process and the things you do. Sport also helps with teamwork, understanding other people’s needs and so much that others don’t necessarily see.