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To get more active disabled people – we can all do better!

Posted: Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:28

To get more active disabled people – we can all do better!

The latest Sport England Active People Survey shows a drop of over 120,000 disabled people being active once a week. But what do the numbers really tell us?

  • Over the eight years of measurement there has been a marginal growth in disabled people's participation – just ahead of the rate for non-disabled people. However, that still means that over 80% of disabled people do less than 30 minutes activity per week.
  • From such a low base, we should be greatly concerned about any drop but need to be more focused in our concerns. Almost all the fall took place within three "sports": Swimming (which also saw a major fall in numbers amongst all swimmers), Athletics where running fuelled growth continues amongst the wider population but disabled people's participation has fallen off significantly and interestingly in the category "Fitness and Conditioning" which after a big peak in 2012 has really fallen back.

It may well be that these three activities benefitted most from the 2012 Paralympic spike predicted by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who feared that if NGBs didn't step up and focus more on participation they would soon fall back to previous levels. I would argue also, based on our work and experience, that these are the sports which have fallen well short of what needed to be done to actively engage disabled people in a meaningful and sustainable way.

This week, EFDS launches a Charter for Change which will give key stakeholders clarity about where improvement is needed.

Centred around three fundamental requirements for making active lives possible, the Charter pushes hard for a position where:

1. Everyone involved in providing sport or physical activity will support disabled people to participate.

2. Disabled people will have the same opportunity as non-disabled people to be active throughout their lives.

3. All communications about sport and physical activity will promote positive public attitudes towards disabled people's participation.

In each area we ask that simple steps are taken to change the mainstream approach which has so often prevailed amongst sports providers, Disabled People's Organisations and media/communications experts. Past, failing approaches have so often involved marginal "supply side" adjustments or inferior parallel provision which was somehow meant to enthuse and inspire currently inactive people!

Those who are seeing greater success in disabled people's participation (amongst which Tennis is leading the way) have made a simple shift in their thinking. Revolutionary though it may seem, success depends on a willingness to find out what your potential customers might actually want!

Our Charter for Change is strongly underpinned by ten well researched principles published in a report aptly titled "Talk to Me". In this report, disabled people helped to shape ten clear principles which if applied, would enable sport and activity providers to deliver more appealing opportunities for disabled people.

So why are some sports making less progress? In the case of Swimming, whilst recognising the wider potential structural challenges facing Swimming participation generally, my view is that for too long the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has failed to capitalise on its position as disabled people's favourite activity. Focusing on programmes to deliver talented swimmers and potential future Paralympians, ASA appeared closed to exciting ideas about how all disabled people could be embraced in swimming's mainstream offer. The good news is that this position looks set to change drastically with the separation of ASA from British Swimming and the arrival of positive new leadership in the form of the Group Board Chairman, Edward Lord, and CEO, Adam Paker.

The key question for others – crucially including athletics - is to what extent are you genuinely committed to including disabled people in your mainstream participation growth? (Hint: Why not read some of the materials sitting behind this blog before answering?).

Barry Horne, CEO, English Federation of Disability Sport

Tags: Paralympics, Policy, Sport, community sport, school sport


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