ne of the biggest issues facing disabled people remains a lack of physical access, along with a significant skills gap within the leisure industry when it comes to working with people with varying impairments.
Less than a quarter of clubs said they had suitable facilities for disabled people to participate, suitably trained staff or the appropriate equipment, indicating that three quarters of clubs need some form of additional support in order to facilitate disabled participation.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of Great Britain’s most successful Paralympians, told Disability Now’s The Download that the problems are deep-rooted.
“There are still barriers for disabled people doing sport and joining clubs, whether it’s physical access or attitudinal access, from the disabled people as much as from the clubs. If you put that together with the fact that most disabled people have had a pretty bad experience of sport in school, they probably don’t know what to do, and it’s quite hard to ask. And then you’ve got the barriers of physical access and then sometimes people are a bit grumpy and they’re not very helpful, it is really, really hard to do it.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson says that the leisure industry can do more to attract disabled people.
“I think gyms can do more. I think governing bodies can do way more. But also it comes back into school, unless you do some sport through school, unless your parents encourage you it’s not easy. And that cycle is going to take a very long time to break down.”
Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of ParalympicsGB, conceded that many clubs and gyms had more work to do, but objected to the survey’s findings on participation.
He said: “The Sport and Recreation Alliance survey highlights the fact that many clubs in the UK don’t have suitable facilities for disabled people to participate, suitably trained staff and the appropriate equipment to deliver disabled participation. Changing this has to be high on the disability sport agenda following the incredible positive impact of London 2012 and more must be done.”
He added that although there was a long way to go, it was wrong to suggest that the situation hadn’t changed since the Paralympics.
“All the evidence we have seen, from a 25 per cent increase in people playing Wheelchair Basketball and two new clubs in Wheelchair Rugby set up as a result of London 2012, both in areas of the UK where no clubs for that sport have existed before, to our own SportFest in December when a thousand people came through the doors in two days to try Paralympic sport, shows there is a definite increase.”
Barry Horne, Chief Executive of English Federation of Disability Sport, added: “It’s not surprising that clubs are facing some challenges in inclusive provision. Clubs can not transform dramatically overnight to provide the perfect scenario for disabled people, although there are some great examples like in wheelchair basketball. What we do expect is for clubs to embrace long term transformation, strategies which encourage inclusive activity and marketing which attracts disabled people. Tools like our online Inclusion Club Hub can support clubs to think about their current provision and make it better for everyone’s long term benefits”.
Baroness Grey-Thompson says it’s important to the health and well-being of the nation that progress is made and more disabled people are encouraged to take up sport and exercise, despite it being low on people’s agendas because of concerns around welfare reform and social care.
“The advice I’d give to anyone is actually just try and go and do sport with a friend, it’s so much less painful if you go and do some kind of physical activity with a friend. I know from my point of view from doing sport I was fitter, I was stronger, I was never ill, I might have got a few sporting injuries but it made my life so much better. And I think it’s not just selling it to disabled people as do you want to be a Paralympian because actually most disabled people don’t. It’s actually about do you want to be fit and healthy and live the best life you can.”
She added that she would like to see physical activity linked much more closely to the health agenda.
“If more people, whether disabled or not, were fitter and healthier, we would save a shedload of money through the NHS budget.”