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Blog: “Inclusion is paramount for our organisation”

Activity Alliance enables organisations to support disabled people to be active, and stay active for life. This year, we are continuing to share great stories from both sides – how organisations are working to make active lives possible, and the direct impact their work is having on individual disabled people. Today’s blog comes from British Blind Sport’s Participation Officer, Alex Pitts. She talks about the various ways the national charity is reaching and engaging the visually impaired (VI) community to be more active.

Alex at National Youth Swim Gala 2019 with a competitor

Hi, I’m Alex and I’ve been with British Blind Sport (BBS) for just over 2 years. We are a national charity, whose purpose is to improve the lives of visually impaired people through sport and physical activity. In my role as Participation Officer I deliver our series of introductory multi-sport Have a Go Days. As well as providing sector support and encouraging visually impaired people to be more active.

Statistics show that only 32% of visually impaired people are considered to be physically active in the UK. This is compared to 64% of the whole population. This is a massive inequality.

We are working to address this through a number of avenues. This involves partnership working, implementing projects, undertaking research and being strategically inclusive throughout our organisation.

Our partnership work is focused on two main groups; national and community sports organisations and organisations providing services to people living with sight loss.

Our work with national and community sports organisations sees us supporting them with the tools and partnerships they need. This support enables them to effectively reach and engage more visually impaired people.

Working with organisations that provide services to VI people sees our team raising awareness and understanding of the benefits sport and physical activity can bring to their clients. As well as to the wider society.

This approach allows us to focus on and increase the range of quality physical activity opportunities for VI people. Crucially, this will also allow us to increase the awareness of these opportunities within the VI community, reaching new audiences of inactive VI people.  

We have a few key projects running across UK communities that helps us to achieve this. Our Have a Go Day events programme sees us delivering sport taster days across local communities. See My Voice is a sports leadership programme which develops life skills for 10-20 year olds. Our First Steps project is an early intervention programme for 3-11 year olds; we are currently supporting 450 families with an activity pack that allows them to build their confidence of being active together. This is in the safety of their own home. When ready, our designated project officer supports the children and their families with integrating into local community activities.

Supporters play an important role in getting disabled people active. At BBS this is something we’ve been thinking outside of the box about, to seek creative solutions to encourage inactive people to move a bit more. We receive many requests from VI people looking for guides to access community activities and facilities including leisure centres. Having a buddy there to help with orientation and understanding of surroundings is important as it enables them to be more independent.

Our Find a Guide service is making a great impact in supporting VI people to run. We work closely with England Athletics to deliver this. There is a demand for cycling, swimming and gym guide volunteers. We are exploring innovative partnership solutions, in line with safeguarding policies, where we may be able to deploy 'VI sport volunteers'. The aim is to support and develop relationships with inactive VI people through our sight loss sector partners’ services.

January 2020 will see us launching our British Blind Sport Activity Finder too! Our research shows that awareness of opportunities is a major barrier. This tool, which will be housed on our website, will make it easier for VI people to identify local opportunities. The Activity Finder is one of the priorities for BBS this year and will allow us to generate accurate information and raise awareness of local opportunities. As well as encouraging referrals through our sight loss sector partners.

My advice to other sporting organisations trying to enable more disabled people to be active is: it’s easier than you think. Co-production is essential. Take a person-centred approach and with the feedback from the disabled participant, adapt the activity to suit their needs. If you engage with the disabled person at the earliest opportunity to shape your activities – you’re on the right track!

Find out more about British Blind Sport on their website