Access to sport is vital

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Here is a shocking statistic - 80 per cent of people with disabilities do not achieve the recommended daily level of exercise, writes columnist Jemima Browning.

Over the summer I have been thinking about why the gap in participation and sporting opportunity for people with a disability exists.

There are many barriers for those with disabilities and their families. They can be categorised into three main groups; psychological, physical and logistical. Unfortunately, the psychological barrier is the most prominent and often the hardest to break down.

The beliefs and perceptions of the people with disabilities and the attitudes of people without disabilities are the largest barrier to participation. There is a huge lack of confidence in people with disabilities preventing them from even considering trying a sport. This is often linked to bad past experiences. Lack of opportunities for people with disabilities to take part in physical activities affects their self-esteem and leads to them believing the people with disabilities can’t play sport. It impacts upon the perception in society that people with disabilities cannot do sport. This leads to the lack of opportunities provided and hence this misconception is reinforced.

If people with disabilities overcome the psychological barriers, the physical barriers still pose a huge obstacle. The facility and equipment can pose physical barriers. The facility may not have the necessary adaptations meaning the space may be inaccessible or are only partially suitable. Equipment is often not provided due to high costs and low demand. This means people who require specific equipment may have to purchase this themselves or decide against taking part because of the cost.

In some instances, where provisions have been made to break down the psychological and physical issues, inefficient implementation limits the participation. The logistical side of things is similar for those with and without disabilities. Geography can be a barrier, posing issues when facilities are not local. It is so important to have clubs set up in as many areas as possible. Expense is an issue for all, no one will want to partake in sport the costs are unreasonable. Unfortunately, costs can come from expensive equipment and adaptations, travel expenses or the sport itself. This is often not covered by health or social care provisions. Therefore, costs are often higher for those with disabilities than the general population.

Communication is a large barrier to those with disabilities. Promotion to target groups is difficult, especially in adult life. This can be due to the absence of a central resource for promotion and the fact that the promotion material may not be in a relevant, accessible format. In addition to this, and possibly a larger barrier, is the individual’s inability to communicate effectively. This can preclude people with disabilities partaking in certain activities in the mainstream world.

Whilst most barriers are consistent across all impairments, some disabilities pose issues specific to them. For example, people who are hearing impaired experience difficulties with communication as the main barrier, whereas for people with physical disability physical accessibility and the need for modified equipment are the main barriers. People with learning disabilities often have multiple coexisting needs, have a lack of understanding of processes and need support to appropriately access facilities. To ensure fairness and equality, provision should be made for people with any disability who wish to take part in competitive sport to compete with people with similar disabilities such that everyone has an opportunity to succeed and achieve their potential.

Only when we transform the hearts and minds of the general population to effect social inclusion will we effect physical inclusion and maintain the health and wellbeing of a unified community.