Amidst a society where health, sport and fitness activities are becoming increasingly prevalent, one part of the population has continuously gone under the radar. Disabled people have frequently been underrepresented in wider world of sport, facing a multitude of psychological, social and physical barriers to fulfilling their personal desires to participate in physical activity. Although there has been an expansion in viewing figures for elite Parasport- with events such as The Invictus Games and the Paralympics springing to mind- the problem lies within the wider disabled population. However, this may be about to change…
Everyone Can may be the solution. Led by the governing bodies SportEngland and UKActive this is a campaign aimed at addressing the barriers faced by disabled people wishing to participate in sport and physical activity. The plans outline a comprehensive approach to increasing inclusion and access to sports facilities; previous studies have shown that 7 out of 10 disabled people in the UK want to be more active, therefore this new drive in the sector may play a central role in reducing this figure, thereby providing this population with the wealth of physical and mental health benefits resulting from regular exercise.
The campaign’s preliminary objective was identifying the most common barriers faced by the wider disabled population. A series of focus groups undertaken by a wealth of disability organisations, including Mind, Alzheimer’s Society and Sport for Confidence, found that disabled people were twice is likely to be inactive than non-disabled people, yet 4 in 5 disabled people report they would like to do more physical activity. Therefore, the underlying issue is not interest or desire to participate; the problem lies with barriers faced that prevent participation.
The most prevalent and widely publicised problems associated with disability sport has, and will continue to be, physical access to facilities, with a historical perception from sport and leisure providers that investing in the specific, often expensive, equipment and coaching requirements for disability sport, alongside essentials such as wheelchair ramps, is a futile endeavour that costs more than it’s worth. Yet, the initial findings of Everyone Can suggests that there is high demand for such activities, and thus one of the campaign’s plans involves encouraging sports centres across the UK to invest in disabled sport services.
However, Everyone Can’s multi-dimensional approach also engages with socio-cultural issues surrounding disability sport. Many disabled people within the focus groups explained how they were put off participating due to the historical exclusion of disabled populations from sport and physical activity. In this way, part of the Everyone Can campaign focuses heavily on widespread inclusion regardless of disability, encouraging activities (particularly within schools) whereby those with disabilities have as much opportunity to compete alongside their peers which will hopefully result in reducing feelings of isolation from mainstream activities.
The Everyone Can campaign does, in theory, show potential for the growth and success of wider disability sport. UKActive’s Public Affairs director Huw Edwards recently summarised the campaign as “sharing our expertise, experience and best practice, the fitness and leisure sector can become accessible, inclusive and welcoming to everyone”. This begs the question as to whether the campaign will indeed achieve this.
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