Twenty Years - How Far Have We Come?
Posted: Sun, 09 Sep 2018 17:15
On 7 September 2018, we celebrate 20 years as a national charity. Formed as the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), in April this year we changed our name to Activity Alliance. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved so far, but we know that our vision 'disabled people are active for life' remains a challenging ambition.
I remember 1998 well. It was the year Jane and I married. In the wider world, a major milestone was achieved that year with the signing of the Good Friday agreement. It was hard to imagine back then that twenty years later Jane and I would have an 18-year old who would be accepted into his first choice university in the city of Belfast. Those seemingly unconnected facts are an example of how much change can occur in 20 years!
But, how far have we come in meeting our ambitions to see disabled people being just as active as non-disabled people?
In 1998, EFDS brought together a number of established national and regional bodies with complementary roles. The founding Members were National Disability Sports Organisations (focused on impairment groups), regional bodies and Disability Sport England.
For much of its time, EFDS responded to the priorities of its Sport England funding. Until recently, that led us to focus primarily on supporting the "supply-side" offer of National Governing Bodies of sport. Our 2012 Strategy introduced our current vision - disabled people are active for life. It signalled a clear shift towards capturing and sharing a much stronger understanding of "the demand side" of the system and motivating disabled people to be active.
The scale of transition in the focus of EFDS/Activity Alliance over the last five years or so is still not always understood. Our offer to those organisations with the potential to support disabled people to become active is extensive and well rounded. We are confident we have the right framework to support a major upturn in disabled people's activity rates.
And yet, the number of active disabled people remains stubbornly resistant to growth. I am often asked why that could be the case if we have such confidence in the transformed offer now available from Activity Alliance. I think the answer is simple. Too many sport and leisure providers have remained stubbornly faithful to the old approaches, which have consistently failed disabled people.
I wanted to assess how far we have come through the lens of the Behaviour Change model adopted by Sport England. Although a framework to consider activating individuals, it serves the purpose of evaluating organisational progress incredibly well:
Pre-contemplation – our research shows that many activity providers including some coaches have still not actively thought about how they will engage disabled people. For some, there is an avoidance based on misplaced fears of the potential difficulties involved.
Contemplation – Government and Sport England strategies have got some organisations actively thinking about how to engage disabled and other inactive people. A number of sports have clear plans focused on both engaging disabled people in mainstream activities as well as well as dedicated and adapted opportunities. Ukactive are now seeking to lead its fitness industry members into that territory too.
Preparation – there is now so much information, resources and support available for organisations preparing to engage disabled people available from Activity Alliance. We have built a solid bank of evidence on what works. Our Get Out Get Active programme evaluation is already giving tangible evidence of effective ways to get disabled and non-disabled people active together. At the core, we have developed our Talk to Me Principles, now presented through film and giving powerfully simple guidance on how to engage disabled people effectively. England Golf offer a great example in how they are using the ten principles for club development
Action – a number of sports and partnerships are beginning to show evidence of real world impact based on having a better understanding disabled people in their markets. Organisational improvement planning is helping some to ensure that their workforce is now better equipped to work with disabled people. Some local clubs are receiving targeted support and the sector is increasingly working with non-traditional third sector partners. These actions are not only enabling more disabled people to be physically active in their local community; they are giving disabled people a real voice in shaping the services they consume. But these approaches are not yet widespread.
Maintenance – we must not forget that a significant number of disabled people are active albeit in smaller numbers than non-disabled people. It is crucial that as we move the emphasis towards inactive people, that we do not reduce our ability to maintain disabled people's activity current levels. We still need to support people with aspirations to progress to the highest level.
So how far have we come? The simple answer is that our plans and preparations have never been more robust. But real world action remains limited and there remains a resistance to adopting the approaches that we now know will work. My sincere hope is that the next five to ten years will see organisations staying focused taking action on inclusion and maintaining those improved approaches. The real test of success will be whether there is a need for an organisation like Activity Alliance to exist in 20 years' time. I sincerely hope not.
Barry Horne, Chief Executive, Activity Alliance