No sooner had Guiding started, than many girls were keen to join - including girls with disabilities. At that time, some girls with disabilities were educated - there were some specialist boarding schools for deaf girls or blind schools - but there was no requirement for councils to provide any education to those who could not physically attend mainstream schools, so most disabled girls got little or no education. Those with physical disabilities might be housebound, those with learning difficulties might stay in an institution. And children regularly spent months or years as in-patients in hospitals, with no provision made for their education while they were there.
So, as early as 1911, 'Extension' units began, intended to 'extend' Guiding to disabled girls. By 1924 it included units in charitable institutions, blind schools, deaf schools, homes for the disabled, children's hospitals, mental health hospitals, schools for children with behavioural problems, and also Lone Guides with disabilities.
July 1914 Girl Guides Gazette
16th Liverpool Guide Company - the first registered company of blind Guides, based at the School for the Blind, Wavertree, Liverpool.
"We were registered on February 15th, 1914, but long before that I had read aloud to the children the "Handbook for Girl Guides", and also chapters from the book on "Scouting", to get the interest of both girls and boys. My great difficulty seemed to be in finding officers, as people naturally think it must be a difficult thing to train blind children. It is an idea which I hope will soon be wiped out as, given the same opportunity for work and play, the blind girl will compare very favourably with her sighted sister. Different methods, however, may have to be resorted to. For instance, in the Morse Code whistles are used instead of flags, with long and short blasts for the dash and dot."
In most cases the girls in Extension units competed the same badge tests as girls in open companies did - alternative tests could be substituted on application to the Head of the Extension Branch. There was a special First Class badge which Extension Guides could work for. Initially they were embroidered in mauve thread, and the special Extension Tenderfoot Badge had mauve enamel. The badges available were Braille, Brushmaker, Collector, Handicraft, Hostess, Advanced Knitter, Language, Netter, Observer, Potter, Extension Gardener, Extension Thrift, as well as Mauve First Class, and Mauve all-round Cords. Later the badges were changed to blue thread, but the Tenderfoot badge remained mauve. After 1968 all Guides earned the same badges, but in some cases alternative clauses were printed in the handbook.
The other initiative Guiding started for the Extension section was the Extension Handicrafts department. Because the girls had little academic education, they also had little scope for learning a trade and earning some money. As such, a disabled child could mean extra strain on family finances. So Guiders taught the girls handicrafts, and helped them to source materials. They would then collect them and send them off to be sold by the handicraft department. The Extension Guide would get the profit from the items sold, allowing her to earn some money of her own. The department operated for over 50 years, until such time as the number of crafters had dwindled with other employment opportunities becoming available.
The Extension section was eventually renamed as Guiding for the disabled, and over time more and more of the units closed as the girls moved into mainstream units. But there are still units based at schools for the blind or deaf, which, though open, cater for the specific needs of the school members.