Girlguiding adventures are for everyone

Disabled Guide leader Kate on how adventures have been made accessible for her

21 November 2022

I’m Kate, a Guide leader from Derbyshire. Over the last few months, Girlguiding has worked with me to make guiding accessible.

I’m disabled. For me, that means that it often hurts to walk, and activities tire me out more easily than they do most people. My condition fluctuates; sometimes I am almost pain-free, and sometimes I am in a lot of pain.

To an extent, I can predict when my worst pain days will be, but there’s always an element of guesswork. My support needs therefore vary, depending on how my condition is affecting me at the time, and managing them is a bit of a balancing act. 

I’m also a keen hillwalker and have been since I was a Rainbow. Since becoming disabled, which has happened gradually over the last ten years, I’ve had to challenge a lot of my own assumptions about what disabled people can and can’t do – and, by extension, what I as a disabled person can and cannot do.

These assumptions, or barriers, do a lot of damage in our society because they mean that disabled people often can’t access all the opportunities that non-disabled people can, simply because other, non-disabled, people decide what is and is not appropriate for them to do. 

As Girlguiding volunteers, we have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people – that is, to reduce as far as possible any disadvantages the disabled person is experiencing.  (There’s a really great section about making reasonable adjustments on the Girlguiding website, if you’re interested!)

A great example of this is Girlguiding’s walking scheme.

On the face of it, you might wonder why on earth a person who finds walking painful would want to hold a walking qualification. My answer to that is, if I stopped doing something every time it was painful for me, I would never do anything – and being out on the hill greatly benefits my mental health. Why wouldn’t I want to share that with my Guides?

It’s also important that our young members see that it’s always okay to have a go at something, and that it’s possible to get a lot of enjoyment out of an activity even when you’re not the best or fastest at it. It’s also entirely possible to actively lead a group whilst being its slowest member!

Plus, as a Peak District unit, the hills are all around us, and I want our Guides to know how to enjoy them safely. 

My barriers to completing a Level 2 walking qualification were partly practical, and partly to do with other people’s ideas about whether it was appropriate for a disabled leader to hold a walking qualification. Short answer: of course it is!

After discussion with Sarah Trinder, the Midlands walking adviser, the walking team agreed to adapt the Level 2 walking qualification to meet my needs. It’s still a challenge, of course, but no longer significantly harder for me to achieve than for any other person with my level of experience, and that’s the aim with reasonable adjustments.

Sarah also spoke to the local volunteers who were unsure about whether it was safe for me to lead walks. The disadvantages I was experiencing have been removed, and I’m happily logging walks and aiming for assessment in April 2023. 

The other side of the coin is that, sometimes, being on my feet sucks energy that I would rather use for something else, like helping out at camp. Inspired by another leader on Twitter, I applied for an accessible guiding grant from HQ, and was awarded some money to hire an off-road power chair for a weekend camp at Waddow Hall this autumn. 

The chair was absolutely incredible and allowed me to play an active role in the weekend in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. 

I could follow the Guides up hills, had great fun challenging them to races, and didn’t have to worry about being too tired to help run the holiday as licence holder. It’s made all the difference to me to be supported in this way by Girlguiding. 

Thank you, Girlguiding, for helping me to be my best.  And, if anyone reading this has an urge to challenge themselves, I say go for it – and don’t be afraid to ask for adjustments if you need them. Girlguiding is for everyone.