This article originally appeared in the October/November issue of PosAbility Magazine. To read articles like this and more before anyone else, subscribe here.

Mikey Erhardt, communications officer at Get Yourself Active, explains the importance of co-production for breaking down barriers disabled people face when trying to get involved in sport

By Mikey Erhardt

The summer that just passed might have been the most sporting we have ever had. From Euros Fever to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and even more recently the US Open, there has been an absolute deluge of sporting inspiration.

We all know the feeling of watching athletes perform at the highest level and feeling inspired to go out and try to get stuck in too. However, a big question remains: why, in the face of more disabled sport being on TV than ever before, with broadcasters like Channel 4 setting a new benchmark for the broadcast of disabled sports, are so few disabled people getting active?

The statistics demonstrate a harsh reality: Scope reported that 40% of disabled people say that they never do sport or physical activity. Why are so many of us missing out on all the benefits that exercise and physical activity can bring, and what can be done to ensure that everyone can get active in a way that suits them?

Scope’s survey showed that more than a third (35%) of disabled people felt excluded from sport. They pointed to barriers such as negative attitudes, inaccessible sporting venues, and a lack of trained staff to support them, which prevents them from getting active.

Additionally, local sports centres are often inaccessible, as accessibility was not considered while they were being designed. Just picture the disappointment we feel when we make the effort to travel to a facility only to discover the lack of an adequate ramp or changing facilities. It shouldn’t be this way; things need to change.

There is also the issue of cost. Why don’t we look at wheelchair racing as an example? The equivalent of perhaps the most accessible sport of all – running. Running as a non-disabled person is simple and almost always cost-free. Perhaps you might need the latest shiny trainers, but really, you could do it for free.

Well, if you enjoy wheelchair racing, your experience is very different. You’ll need access to a running track or similar facility unless you want to risk the road and pavement of your local area. You’ll need gloves, perhaps a helmet, and maybe you’ll need a specialist chair of your own – an additional cost which can run up into the thousands.

We know that activities can cost more if you’re a disabled person, and sport is no different. These, along with so many other barriers, contribute to an overall belief within large parts of the disabled community that sport and physical activity are simply not for them; that a world in which we can all take part and get active doesn’t exist.

For many disabled people, no matter how athletes inspire them to get active or participate, they can’t do what they want. However, the problem is not theirs to own; it’s the world around us, and this needs to change. Recently the Government issued a “rallying cry” by making £100m of funding available to make sport “more accessible” for disabled people following Paralympics GB’s achievements in Tokyo.

Representation and the presentation of disabled sport is just a starting point. For real change to happen, we need to accept that elite level sport is not the only way that disabled can people get active. We need to push for a renewed emphasis on disabled sports and physical activity at all levels – not just elite.

We think that one answer to these issues may come in the form of co-production. This is a way of working where service providers and disabled people work together to reach a positive collective outcome. Co-production would allow disabled people to use their own experiences and capacity to change things. This creates a whole new dynamic between professionals and people who use services, so that power is shared more equally – what’s not to love?

Want an example of this in practice? You can look at the work of our friends at Dance Syndrome, an inclusive dance charity based in Lancashire with a focus on including everyone, regardless of ability in the art of dance.

Co-production methods mean that disabled people have a real opportunity to occupy leadership positions within the organisation. The chance to lead, choreograph, and perform in a way that is often rare, is perhaps the most inspiring part of the organisation, and there are loads of others like it across the country. 

Scope reported that 91% of disabled people want to be more active, so why don’t decision-makers hear us? A new focus on co-production across the entire sport and physical activity sector would keep disabled people at the heart of everything. It would open a new world of activity for disabled people – one we have all been waiting too long for. 

Get Yourself Active is a programme led by Disability Rights UK and funded by Sport England and aims to get disabled people active by working with social care, health and sports sectors. Visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

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