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Engaging more disabled people: Ray Ashley, Head of Engagement

Last week (24 April), we added to our suite of support with a set of engagement factsheets. Supported by Sport England, the ten factsheets aim to help providers to strengthen their work, enabling organisations to engage more disabled people to be and stay active for life. Here, we hear from our Head of Engagement, Ray Ashley, on the importance of collaboration to engage more disabled people.

Ray at our GOGA Conference in Manchester

Explain the role of your engagement advisors and how they influence and support regions across England?
I manage a team of advisors who support local and national work. My engagement advisors cover nine regions across England, along with my two national advisors, who support key strategic partners, including Active Partnerships and National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGBs).

My team of five geographical leads cover the North East and North West, Yorkshire and East Midlands, West Midlands, East and South East and the South West. They bring organisations together for regional meetings, and cross-sector networking events, to improve opportunities for disabled people in sport and active recreation.

How have you seen the landscape shift in the time you have been involved?
I have been doing this job for 16 years and two things have significantly changed.

The sport and leisure sector was very much about sports development. This involved developing clubs, player pathways, competitions and improving the way coaches and volunteers deliver sports. The engagement resources created back then focused on sports development, and concentrated on improving the sector.

NGBs, Active Partnerships (formerly known as County Sport Partnerships) or local authorities were the main providers of sport and leisure. There were very few disability leads, or people responsible for disabled people inside sport and leisure organisations. This eventually changed.

We aren’t tasked too much anymore in our sector with trying to support the core market. We are now also responsible for getting inactive people into activity, and sport isn’t necessarily the only way to achieve this. It’s not just about traditional sports anymore, but about partnering with other sectors, such as health, to show how and why they should use activity in their opportunities too.

What do you think needs to change across the sectors to support more disabled people to be more active?
The recent results from the latest Sport England Active Lives Survey (11 April 2019) shows that activity levels are rising, particularly for women and disabled people. Despite these positive figures, the stark reality is that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people. So, now is the ideal time to increase our efforts.

I believe it is mainly about other organisations, like in health, prioritising activity and making it part of their outcomes. For example, healthcare professionals can have significant influence in supporting more disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to be active for life. As a result, we have been working with people like occupational therapists, to combine our knowledge and share good practice to help increase activity levels. The goal is that being active is seen as a social as well as sport outcome.

The more organisations that champion this, the more we can change the culture and support disabled people to be and stay active for life.

Traditionally, it’s still very much about the improvement journey in sport. This focuses on testing and refining products, programmes and services to be accessible and inclusive to disabled people. It’s really just thinking about co-production, engaging disabled people right at the start, and gathering insight before developing your programme, product or service.

On a broader level, many barriers can be logistical and physical for disabled people. Like in housing, education and transport. These affect disabled people’s activity and we need these decision-makers to think about how they can remove the barriers to make it easier for disabled people to access more opportunities. Anyone needing to guidance, please contact one of the regional engagement advisors through Activity Alliance’s Engagements and Partnerships page.

How important is collaboration in supporting more disabled people to be active?
Our recent release of the health video has shown how collaboration cross-sector plays a huge part in supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to be and stay active.

Watch the health video bleow. 

Watch the health video here

As a small charity ourselves, we can champion supporting disabled to be active for life, but if we don’t work in partnership with others, we will never achieve that.

We cannot remove the wider barriers, mentioned above, without collaboration. This also helps us to improve ourselves – that’s vital in making sure that what is being offered is and remains inclusive.

Looking five years into the future, what does success look like?
Many ask me what good looks like for disabled people in sport and activity. The question I ask back is “what does good look like for non-disabled people?. It should be the same for both disabled and non-disabled people.

The first thing I would really like to see change is seeing more disabled people in leadership roles. The more disabled people in leadership, or people that have lived experience of disability, the more we will be able to create clear policies and strategies that remove barriers at all levels.

I’d also like to encourage our sector to really understand how diverse disabled people are within their own programmes. Disabled people don’t sit in one unique group or in specific impairment groups. You will find disabled people in all your target audiences - as people with BAME backgrounds, young people, women and girls. It is important to realise they don’t sit in isolation in one group and we all need to think about intersectionality.

When it comes to effectively engaging different audiences, our latest factsheets are a fantastic starting point. They can help you to identify the different ways to reach disabled people and offer good practice. You’ll get new ideas and insight that you may not be aware of.

Our updated resources cover ten topics and are free to download. To access the new resources, visit the engagement page on our website.