An open letter: Let’s deliver an inclusive return to play!
From Activity Alliance and members.
This weekend we will see restrictions lifted further across the nation in sport and leisure. We want to work together to address the growing concern that disabled people may become the forgotten audience as activity increases. We cannot let this happen. If we do not act quickly, we risk failing in our collective obligation to achieve fairness for all.
We recognise that sport and leisure providers are going through challenging times financially. One of our biggest fears is that providers will cut their inclusion work. Losing the key staff who have been central to ensuring inclusive practice would have a devastating impact on disabled people’s participation. We urge decision makers to think carefully about the expertise that they retain if they genuinely want their offer to be inclusive.
There are risks that additional barriers will prevent some people’s route back to active lifestyles. Adapted equipment or accessible parking bays taped off. Markings that are not tactile or big enough. A diversion that is a longer route on tricky terrain. A mask or screen that undermines clear communication. These new procedures will affect so many disabled people and people with health conditions. These situations are easy to fix if providers take an approach that is welcoming for everyone.
All Activity Alliance members are committed to ensuring disabled people can be active and stay active. Before the pandemic, we were making good progress on closing the unjust gap between disabled and non-disabled people’s activity levels. Indeed, as we went into lockdown, we witnessed the highest number recorded for disabled people’s activity levels yet.
You can imagine how frustrating it is that we have seen inequalities widen during the current crisis. It feels like a double blow for those of us working towards a fair society. Not only are we fighting to break down barriers that existed beforehand and for far too long. But now additional hurdles need addressing that affect millions of people across our country.
In May 2020, just over 7 in 10 disabled adults (73.6%) reported they were "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their life[i]. Feelings of anxiety and loneliness have grown, and sense of wellbeing deteriorated. We also have a new audience of people who have health conditions or have become disabled because of COVID-19. We have heard many hard-hitting personal stories over the last four months. Enough life-changing experiences for us to fear a significant drop in disabled people’s participation rates.
We know there will be even more disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, who feel more isolated and less active. The fear for many disabled people is that attitudes, physical barriers, and systemic failings will mean missing out more than ever before.
Sport and leisure positively change lives, with fantastic inclusive examples, and we must celebrate that. We urge decision-makers and providers from across sport and leisure to put inclusion at the heart of your plans and preparations. Embrace the opportunities that returning to play brings for us all to be innovative and accessible.
Our teams are here to help, with expertise in many areas. We empathise with the changes this pandemic will bring for every person and organisation. Throughout the last four months, we have supported a range of organisations in their plans as we strive to ensure an inclusive return to play for everyone
Activity Alliance released guidance in June - Reopening Activity: An inclusive response, in consultation with partners across sport, leisure and disability equality. We want providers to consider the guidance as part of their ongoing commitment to disabled people’s inclusion. National Disability Sports Organisations are at the forefront of work to make sure that all people with any impairment can be supported to stay active. All our resources and guidance can be accessed through the links below.
Good luck to all reopening their doors from this week. Your support in creating a fairer society has never been more appreciated or needed.
Barry Horne, Activity Alliance
Alaina MacGregor, British Blind Sport www.britishblindsport.org.uk
Adi Fawcett, Cerebral Palsy Sport www.cpsport.org
Tim Shephard, Dwarf Sports Association UK www.dsauk.org
Kiera Roche, LimbPower www.limbpower.com
Michelle Carney, Special Olympics GB www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk
Valerie Copenhagen, UK Deaf Sport www.ukdeafsport.org.uk
Martin McElhatton, WheelPower www.wheelpower.org.uk
[i] Office for National Statistics Coronavirus and the social impacts on disabled people in Great Britain: May 2020