Disabled people shut out of sport and exercise ahead of Paralympics

  •  61 percent of disabled people would like to do more sport or exercise.
  • 21 percent of UK adults say they’d be encouraged to exercise more if facilities were more accessible to them.
  • Almost one in ten disabled people say they would be more likely to take part if they were “not disabled”, “not injured”, or “in better health”.
  • Leonard Cheshire calls for investment in more inclusive sports and facilities, including boccia courts and equipment (boccia is the only fully-accessible sport for all abilities).

Leonard Cheshire Disability logoA new survey from Leonard Cheshire Disability and YouGov underlines how disabled people share the same appetite for taking part in sport and exercise as non-disabled people.

61 percent of disabled adults would like to do more sport or exercise, closely comparable with 64 percent of the non-disabled population.

However, almost one in ten disabled people feel they would be more likely to take part if they were “not disabled”, “not injured”, or “in better health”.

The pre-Paralympic Games findings follow on from our research conducted earlier in the year into the barriers to sport faced by disabled people. That study found that a lack of suitable opportunities and accessible facilities were the biggest obstacles.

In our new research we’ve followed up with respondents to get deeper personal insights into the factors stopping some disabled people from enjoying the same benefits to physical and mental health achieved through sport as everyone else.

“I was a competitive cyclist until last year, regularly taking part in time trials and circuit racing. A crash while racing has left me with a condition called hypothyroidism and since then I’ve been unable to take part in endurance sports. 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, 51, IT Security, Kent.  

“I developed auto-numonic function, a rare brain condition, in 2010. It means I am prone to both hypothermia and hypothermia. It is dangerous for me to do intensive physical activity but I would be interested in learning more about boccia if a club were to become available near me.” – Theresa Smith, 67, retired newspaper advertising sales executive, South London.

“I passionately follow sports, and used to enjoy playing tennis, running and going to the gym. Sadly I’ve had to cut down on all of these since acquiring a lower limb disability as public transport is challenging if you have a mobility limitation. There is also a lack of support, both financial and emotional, to be able to go to clubs or gyms.” Sandy Foru, 34, jewellery seller, London.

“I have cerebral palsy but it is another condition, Arachnoiditis, which prevents me from doing most sports. Before the arachnoiditis kicked in I was able to compete with non-disabled people on equal terms at table tennis and green bowls. Across the Scottish borders we have several qualified boccia coaches like myself.

Our training is subsidised by Scottish Disability Sport. However, some leisure centres have marked courts and some don’t. And so spread out are the clubs in the borders, transport is a barrier for regular competitions between teams, particularly for people with severe disabilities. 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, Credit Controller, 57, Eyemouth, Scotland.

“I used to be a horse-riding instructor before being hit by a car changed my life. I’m lucky that my local gym are very disability-aware. They tailor pilate and aqua-aerobic positions for me and stop pain from returning. People don’t realise how import sport and exercise is to tackling pain and enhancing mobility.”

Philip Watling, Author of Flight of a Lifetime, 45, Milton Keynes

Leonard Cheshire Disability’s view:

“As we look forward to the Paralympic Games in Rio, this research is a reminder that for many disabled people sport and exercise isn’t as accessible and available as it should be,” said former England rugby international and Leonard Cheshire trustee Alastair Hignell CBE.

“The Paralympic Games will no doubt trigger much debate about how disabled people engage with sport.”

“A disability is something you can be born with or acquire later in life. Boccia is a sport that can be played by anyone, including those with conditions limiting mobility or exertion, yet all too often it is not made available by local sports providers. We would like to see a bigger range of sports provided, along with greater commitment shown to the other barriers that prevent greater participation.”

“The benefits of sport to disabled people – including the benefits to mental health and a full social life – are the same to disabled people as everyone else.”

Leonard Cheshire Disability has launched a new guide highlighting how different sections of society can work together to make sport and exercise more inclusive.

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people. Our services include high-quality care and community support together with innovative projects supporting disabled people into education, employment and entrepreneurship. Worldwide, our global alliance of Cheshire partners supports disabled people into education and employment, and works in more than 50 countries. Visit: www.leonardcheshire.org

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