Disabled people shut out of sport and exercise ahead of Paralympics

26 August 2016

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

However, almost one in 10 disabled people feel they would be more likely to take part in sport if they were ‘not disabled’, ‘not injured’, or ‘in better health’.

The pre-Paralympic Games findings follow on from research Leonard Cheshire Disability conducted earlier in the year, into the barriers to sport faced by disabled people.

The study found that a lack of suitable opportunities and accessible facilities were the biggest obstacles.

In Leonard Cheshire Disability's new research they have 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.

Rob Wood, a 51-year-old from Kent, said:

‘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.’

Theresa Smith, a 67-year-old from south London, said:

‘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 near me were to become available.’

Sandy Foru, a 34-year-old from London, said:

‘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.’

Neil McMurdo, a 57-year-old from Eyemouth, in Scotland, said:

‘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.

‘The clubs in the borders are spread out, so transport is also 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.’

Philip Watling, a 45-year-old from Milton Keynes, said:

‘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, which stops the pain from returning.

‘People don’t realise how important sport and exercise is to tackling pain and enhancing mobility.’

Former England rugby international player and Leonard Cheshire trustee Alastair Hignell CBE said:

‘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.

‘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 a greater commitment shown to the other barriers that prevent participation.

‘The benefits of sport for disabled people — including the benefits to mental health and a full social life — are the same as they are for non-disabled people.’

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

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Note to editor

Research data methodology:

This survey has been conducted using an online interview administered to members of the YouGov Plc UK panel of 800,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys.

Emails are sent to panelists selected at random from the base sample. The e-mail invited them to take part in a survey and provided a generic survey link. Once a panel member clicked on the link they are sent to the survey that they were most required for, according to the sample definition and quotas. (The sample definition could be "GB adult population" or a subset such as "GB adult females").

Invitations to surveys don’t expire and respondents can be sent to any available survey. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data. Our survey of over 4,000 people featured interviews with 1,253 disabled people.