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Summer of sport must not mask reality of trying to be active for disabled people

Summer of sport must not mask reality of trying to be active for disabled people

The national charity and leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, Activity Alliance, releases the latest Annual Disability and Activity Survey 2023-2024. It shows that in a year where focus will be on the nation’s top Paralympians’ incredible achievements, the reality is that disabled people still face significant barriers when trying to be active in their communities.

Summer of sport must not mask reality of trying to be active for disabled people

Research from Activity Alliance has revealed disabled people are still being left behind when trying to access sports and physical activities. With a summer of sport on the horizon, including the Paralympic Games and the increased awareness it brings, the national charity is leading calls to make meaningful changes so many more disabled people can enjoy an active lifestyle.

The report from the latest Annual Disability and Activity Survey shows disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people, a disparity that has remained consistent since the first report was released five years ago.

With the world set to celebrate the sporting achievements of Paralympians in Paris this summer, the latest report highlights a significant ‘activity gap’ remains between disabled people and their non-disabled peers. Only four in 10 disabled people feel they have the opportunity to be active as they want to be, compared to seven in 10 non-disabled people.

The importance of harnessing the legacy of the Paralympic Games is clear, with three quarters (76%) of disabled people expressing a desire to be more active. Respondents in the survey praised the Games as an example of much-needed positive representation of disabled people. However, the extraordinary achievements of the country’s top athletes felt far removed from disabled people’s own lives and experiences.

With over 2,000 disabled and non-disabled adults aged 16+ taking part, the report offers in-depth insight into the day-to-day barriers disabled people face when trying to be active. Finding such as the fact that disabled people want to take part in physical activity in outdoor spaces like parks, countryside, or woodland. However, the reality is that less than half of disabled people say it is easy for them to physically access outdoor spaces.

Sharing their experiences with Activity Alliance, disabled people have made clear the significant barriers that make equal access to sport and physical activity feel far removed from their everyday lives. Reports within the survey include experiences of those who “dare not even put the heating on” let alone invest in their physical and mental health, and multiple reports that disability access remains “one of the forgotten things”.

Key findings include:

  • 43% of disabled people feel they have the chance to be as active as they desire, compared to 69% of non-disabled people. Disabled women are more likely feel the disparity in perceived opportunity compared to disabled men (39% vs 48%)
  • Disabled people are less than half as likely to ‘see people like them’ playing, working, and volunteering in sport and physical activity.
  • Disabled people mostly prefer being active in outdoor spaces like parks, countryside, or woodland compared to other locations, but less than half (44%) of disabled people say it’s easy for them to physically access outdoor spaces. This is a significant disparity compared to non-disabled people (78%).
  • Only 9% of disabled people agree they have the opportunity to become a coach or take on a role in delivering sport or physical activity (compared to 24% of non-disabled people).

Adam Blaze, Chief Executive at Activity Alliance, commented on the latest report:

“We know that the nation will get swept up by Olympic and Paralympic fever this summer, so what better opportunity to use this moment and finally address the stark differences in opportunities disabled people face in sport and physical activity.

“As we cheer on medal winners, I urge people to recognise that three-quarters of disabled people in our country want to be more active. Not everyone wants to be or can be a gold medal winner. Everyone has the right to be active where and however they choose to be, but this is not reality when you look at the latest findings in our survey. There are some fantastic examples across the country that challenge this trend, whether within the local community or national programmes, and these need to be available to everyone who wants to be active.

“There are more than 16 million disabled people in the UK, and the reality is that three in four want to be more active. This is not only an untapped market but shows there are vital improvements needed to break down deep-rooted barriers. A summer celebrating sporting achievements is the perfect time to do this.”

David Clarke OBE, Chief Executive of ParalympicsGB said:

“This Summer, as we celebrate the performance of athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their careers in elite sport, we must also ensure that everybody has the opportunity to take part in sport and physical activity. We know being active has so many benefits from health, mental wellbeing, strengthening friendships to community involvement.

“Disabled people continue to feel that they have less chance to be active compared to their nondisabled counterparts. Whilst we wave the flag for the ParalympicsGB team at the Paralympic Games we must also wave the flag for every disabled person in the UK, removing barriers to participation in sport and physical activity and creating thriving inclusive activity provision across the country.”

The full report is available to view on the Activity Alliance website