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Trailblazers' report reveals leisure industry still failing young disabled people

Young disabled people have spoken out about their frustration with major leisure and sports facilities for failing to provide usable equipment, cancelling inclusive classes and forcing people to pay full membership despite not being able to access all services.

Leading gym chains are also criticised for offering little or no information about what they can offer disabled customers, according to our new Game On report. Trailblazers say that a lack of local opportunities and the poor promotion of available facilities mean they are not receiving a sporting chance from leisure and fitness facilities.

The Trailblazers' Game On study of over one hundred young disabled people reveals that:

  • two out of three cannot use a gym owing to a lack of appropriate equipment
  • seventy-five percent do not have access to inclusive sport in their local area
  • three out of four say that better access would encourage them to participate
  • eight out of ten believe there needs to be more active engagement from local gyms and leisure facilities
  • leading gym chains are failing to provide disabled customers with accurate information.

Enjoying sport as a spectator was also found to be problematic, owing to the limited availability of seating for disabled people at sports events coupled with challenges in accessing stadiums.

Jed Thirkettle, 13, from High Wycombe felt inspired to get involved in sport after meeting a Paralympic hopeful. Jed said:

I thought after the Paralympics and all the interest in disability sport there would be new clubs and everyone would be able to get involved. It's not that easy though. I first got interested in disability table tennis and football after going to a taster session last summer. I went twice and really enjoyed it, but they stopped the football taster sessions after only a few weeks. I now play table tennis with able-bodied children once a week for the South and South East region league, but have to travel over an hour to get there. Training for disabled children and adults is only organised once a month. A lot of the tournaments are miles away - a couple of weeks ago we were in Sheffield, next time we will have to go to Nottingham. There isn't really anything in my area for disabled people to do, sports-wise.

Maddy Rees, 24, from London said:

Trying to find out whether gyms and leisure centres are accessible is often an impossible task. Some of the websites of the biggest gym chains have no information about whether or not their venues or equipment are accessible. Customer service staff are oblivious to what they can offer disabled customers. It's almost as though gyms and fitness venues have never considered the notion of disabled people being active.

Despite only being able to use half of the facilities at one venue, I would still have to pay full membership. It would be great to see disabled people recognised as a potential market and tailored membership packages offered accordingly.

Trailblazers called on leisure and sports providers to recognise the value of the disabled market at the All Party Parliamentary Group with MPs, the English Federation of Disability Sport, David Lloyd Leisure, Interactive and Aspire. Trailblazers want to see clearer information about access to buildings and equipment, investment in accessible equipment and more disability awareness training for all staff, including customer services. These are all elements which the Inclusive Fitness Initiative include in the programme, managed by the English Federation of Disability Sport.

Infographics on the latest Trailblazers report

Following the Sport Recreation Alliance report which claimed nine out of ten sports clubs have seen no change in the number of disabled people joining or engaging in sport, the Trailblazers are concerned that the leisure industry's failure to engage with disabled sport enthusiasts is closing doors to young disabled people who want to participate in sport at all levels.

Bobby Ancil, Project Manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, said:

Many young disabled people have been motivated by the spirit of the London 2012 Games, which created the momentum for them to explore the opportunities available at their local leisure centres, sports clubs and organisations.

However, many are falling at the first hurdle because the fitness and leisure industry has failed to recognise the demand from disabled people. We want to see better information on facilities and classes, as well as investment in equipment and improved access. It's unacceptable to force people to pay full membership when they cannot access all facilities.

If you would like to learn more about how the Inclusive Fitness Initiative can help your facility to be more accessible to all disabled people, please contact us

EFDS are helping to deliver Sainsbury's Active Kids for All. If you would like to know more about the free training and resources available to teachers and school staff to provide high quality PE provision for all young people, contact Kat Southwell