Blog entry by Niall Judge
COVID-19 pandemic is having an enormous impact on the sport and physical
activity sector, and we fully recognise the challenges and uncertainties that
are being faced. As the leading voice for disabled people in sport and
activity, Activity Alliance is also seriously concerned about the potential
long-term damage COVID-19 is having on disabled people’s lives and their
The lack of opportunities to be active over the last 12 months has significantly widened inequalities for disabled people. Our latest Annual Survey highlights that disabled people felt they do not have the opportunity to be as active as they want to be compared to non-disabled people (29% vs 44%). New barriers included a lack of space and support to be able to exercise safely at home. Respondents from the survey also said that a lack of activity has led to both their physical and mental health being harder to manage. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation were frequently voiced too.
As the country prepares to action the government’s roadmap to recovery, we are urging sports clubs to put inclusion and accessibility at the heart of their reopening plans.
My advice to clubs is to start thinking about the information you share and how you share it. For example, are you promoting your COVID-19 safety measures to your membership? And are you making this available in different formats and through a range of communication channels? Providing clear and consistent information will reassure your members, give them confidence to return and relieve some of the anxieties individuals may have. Be mindful that some disabled people and people with long-term health conditions have been self-isolating since March 2020, and anxiety about re-joining activity will be high.
Are you considering the flexibility of your sessions? Some disabled people may have reduced fitness levels from when they last attended an activity session face to face. Take this into account when designing your sessions. This information can support an individual with their decision to return, and not have the fear of being left behind.
With social distancing measures still being in place, it is also vital for clubs to plan and listen to members around their needs in accessing sessions. Things to think about include ensuring there is enough access for everyone, is seating available for people, are waiting areas accessible to all.
Finally, and probably one of the most important aspects to consider is - are you talking to your disabled members? Asking them how they feel about returning to activity and what you can do to make this journey less stressful. This should be an essential component of your planning and preparation to reopen.
Activity Alliance has produced a useful guide on reopening activity in an inclusive and accessible way. As more opportunities to be active resume, we want clubs to use guidance as part of their ongoing commitment to disabled people’s inclusion. We hope clubs and organisations will embrace this opportunity and play their part towards a fairer society. Together, we can empower disabled people to return to the sport or activity they love.
View Annual Disability and Activity Survey 2020-21 report here. Alternatively, you can watch a video presentation of the findings.