Grassroots disability sport — myths and magic

30 August 2016

By Barney Cullum

Sport is about something far removed from fitness. Think of the abstract fun of play, the friendships formed, and the escapism.

Access to these simple pleasures remains unequal though, as our new research has found.

A huge appetite to run, push, jump and throw

Our survey with pollsters YouGov established 61% of disabled people would like to do more sport or exercise.

Contrary to what is sometimes reported, often by those looking to pass the blame for an inactive nation, there is a huge appetite to run, push, jump and throw within Britain’s disabled population.

This demand will only increase during the Paralympic Games, which start next week. However, many won’t be able to realise their aspirations. Or, having had bad experiences in the past — PE lessons as a disabled child, for example — will not leave the front door to pursue them.

Shut out from sport

Research we did earlier in the year unearthed an even more significant stat: 41% of disabled people feel sport and exercise activities laid on by most providers don’t cater for them.

Rob Wood pushing  his bike

To a degree, gym venues have become more accessible in recent years — partly following campaigning work from our charity — but getting inside is only half the battle. What do you play once you’re inside if the wheelchairs for the wheelchair basketball are upstairs, or if the only sport you can play is one the staff have never heard of?

Over the last year I’ve spoken to many people who feel ‘shut out’ from taking part in sport or exercise.

Most recently, I had a conversation with a former time trial cyclist Rob Wood, who has been left kicking his heels since a crash left him unable to compete.

Initially diagnosed two years ago with hypothyroidism but with further tests imminent, the message was frank.

‘A bigger range of sport options for people with health conditions should be made available.

‘We should have the same right to getting a "competitive kick" as everyone else.’ — Rob Wood

Almost one in 10 of the disabled people we surveyed feel they would be more likely to take part if they were ‘not disabled’, ‘not injured’, or ‘in better health’.

Benefical for everyone

Neil McMurdo on his mobility scooter

The benefits of sport should be for everyone to enjoy and in boccia — a bowls-like game pronounced ‘bot-cha’ — there is a game that can be adapted for anyone and everyone.

Public transport limitations can get in the way of regular competitions between teams, particularly for people with severe disabilities, as Neil McMurdo a boccia coach and wheelchair user from Scotland points out.

‘It’s ironic that amid all the buzz of the Paralympics, there are sweeping cuts to the provision of carers, who would otherwise be playing a role in getting players to clubs’ — Neil McMurdo

Supporting people to live full lives

From the visits I’ve made to our care homes around the country, I’m all too aware of this. We’re lucky to have some incredibly dedicated volunteer bus drivers — and access to a limited supply of minibuses — taking people to boccia, boxing, swimming and tennis. But we always need more of both.

People may be surprised a charity synonymous with social care is campaigning for more inclusive provision of sport and related infrastructure. But supporting people to live full lives is fundamental to everything we stand for.

Find out more about how we’re striving to create more opportunities for and from sport.

Barney is an external communications officer for Leonard Cheshire Disability and a freelance journalist.

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