Awards for good attendance discriminate against sick and disabled

It’s time to take my hat off and salute the eminently sensible views of a mother who talks about her two sons. One chronically disabled with severe cerebral palsy, the other fit and well with a perfect school attendance record.


JJ, left, with his elder brother who has cerebral palsy. (Pic: Rachel Wright).

And that’s where mum, Rachel Wright of Essex in England, put her foot down.

You see, 10-year-old younger son JJ, was to be given an award by his school for perfect attendance. That is, until his mum took to Facebook to explain why her son won’t be accepting the award.

Rachel gave four reasons for the decision:

  • We don’t reward luck. In this family, we will think of as many reasons possible to praise our children. We will celebrate and reward them, but being lucky enough not to get sick is not one of them. He’s lucky to have not developed a fever, had an accident or live with a chronic illness.
  • 100% Attendance Awards can demonise the weakest. In this family, you are not shamed for ill health, vulnerability or weakness. In this house, you are not encouraged to spread germs when you are not well. We look after ourselves and the weakest among us.
  • JJ had no control over his 100% attendance. In this family, you don’t take praise for something you didn’t do. He had no control over his attendance. I took him to school and it would have been my decision to keep him off. I should get the reward (or not) for his attendance.
  • We are taking him out of school for five days at the end of term (with permission from school). In this family, we value school and work but we also know the importance of making memories and having rest. So, our son will finish his school year one week early and go to Italy instead of class parties, watching films and playing end of year games.

Attendance awards send wrong message to children

Rachel said she believes that a reward for good attendance sends the wrong message to children. On Facebook, she wrote: “What on earth are we teaching our kids about value and worth? What are we teaching them about looking out for each other and looking after the sick or disabled in our community?”

As she mentioned in her post, JJ’s brother, who is aged 11, has severe disabilities.

She said: “As the parent of a severely disabled child, I have a strong aversion to rewarding children for not being sick. It is important that as a family we value all people and that sickness does not mean rewards are forfeited. Being sick means you are cared for, not punished. Since our eldest son was born, our values have changed and our perspective altered.”

Rachel has since said she’s planning an alternative event for JJ to have a fun time at a play centre with other kids from his school. And that includes children with and without perfect attendance. The original award would have included an evening at the play centre for JJ.

She has written about her journey as a parent of a child with special needs in her memoir, The Skies I’m Under. She said she hopes her book, blog and recent viral Facebook post will make people think twice about things like attendance awards.

“I hope they consider the ways they view children and adults with disabilities or chronic conditions. I hope that we can have a mature discussion about how we value and need to reward things that children actually have control over determining,” she added.

27,000+ Facebook likes

Up to date, the original post has attracted more than 27,000 likes plus many comments both for and against her stand.

I must admit, awards for good attendance is an issue that I had not previously considered. Having said that, though, she is right. How can it be ok to reward someone for doing something because they are lucky enough to enjoy good health? That is just an insult to people who are sick or disabled – through no fault of their own. An insult to people like JJ’s brother with cerebral palsy, or to people like me with multiple sclerosis.

In fact, it all reminds me of my years spent in the past as an adult leader in the Scouts. Scouts promise to ‘do their best’, and we used that when deciding who was awarded each badge. A more able child would be expected to do more, a less able one would do less. The key was, did we believe that a child had done his or her best?

In the end, isn’t that all we can ask?

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Being defined by disability not by value

Just the other day, I was asked about the sort of reaction people get when their disability gets to the stage that they have to give up a work and then try to get employment that they could manage.

The question I was asked was: “Am I correct in thinking that many people who have to stop working due to their disability end up being defined by their illness rather than the value they can create elsewhere?”

Sadly, in my experience, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Thinking back to November 2006, my condition made it impossible for me to continue doing the job I had at the time. So I decided to seek alternative employment but came against a brick wall – all because I had already been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Not that I was turned down because of my disability. Perish the thought! That would have been illegal in the UK as it is in many countries. You see it would have broken the laws designed to protect those of us with disabilities; protect us from discrimination.

But that, of course, was never the stated reason.

In cases where I was not asked medical questions, I did not mention it. In one case I reached the final shortlist of three before the potential employer gave out medical questionnaires. Answering them all honestly resulted in me being told that one of the other candidates had been given the job.

equal-opportunityThen there were those companies where the personnel department sent out an ‘equal opportunities’ form to be completed and returned with the application form. Ostensibly this is because, they say, they want to ensure that they employ a cross-section of society – including people with disabilities. Strangely, or maybe not, those companies didn’t even offer me an interview.

I recounted this to the jobs adviser I was assigned at the local jobcentre, a part of what is now the Department of Work and Pensions. Her response was to tell me to apply for disability benefit, meaning that I no longer needed to look for work. And, of course, it meant the number of unemployed was reduced by one.

That’s my story and yet similar tales could be told many thousands of times as potential employers only pay lip service to anti-discrimination legislation. And by just being careful not to incriminate themselves they just waltz around the laws.

Well, it’s not quite the end of my story.  I have always fought against being defined by my disability  and now, thanks to Multiple Sclerosis News Today publishing my articles, I have reclaimed my value.


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