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Government activity commitments must prioritise disabled people

Ahead of International Day of Disabled People (3 December) the national charity and leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity calls for disabled people to be prioritised as part of the government's commitment to transform activity levels.

Group of disabled and non-disabled people taking part in movement and strength exercise class. Photo credit: Sport England

On 3 December, the United Nation’s International Day of Disabled People is celebrated globally to promote the rights and wellbeing of disabled people. Ahead of this important date, the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, Activity Alliance, is calling on the government to give disabled people more support to equally reap the benefits of being active. The national charity urges them to lay out a detailed action plan that brings to life their long-term commitment in addressing the challenges disabled people face.

Disabled people are among the least active in our country. Barriers including physical access, financial constraints and facility staff awareness continue to limit disabled people’s opportunities. Many of these barriers have existed for far too long. That is why the charity’s Vice President, John Amaechi OBE, is leading the call to see disabled people actively consulted more on a cross-government action plan, with a cabinet-level position to co-ordinate its work.

This follows research from the charity that indicates a bleak picture for disabled people’s fair access to being active, with worrying implications for mental health and isolation as a result. Activity Alliance’s Annual Disability and Activity Survey released in June this year, revealed disabled people were more likely to say they wanted to be more active compared to non-disabled people (77% vs 54%). This “activity gap” has remained consistent in previous years, showing an ongoing unmet need.

The charity was pleased to see as part of the newly announced sport strategy, the government committed to another 700,000 disabled people becoming active before 2030. The next step must be to see a specific action plan for how accessible activity will be improved across the UK. 

Worryingly, the charity’s research also revealed that disabled people are nearly three times more likely than non-disabled people to feel lonely always or often (23% vs 8%) and a worrying increase in loneliness for disabled people over the last four years, compared to decreasing levels of loneliness for non-disabled people. The call to decision makers is to ensure there is a specific action plan for disabled people within the government’s ‘Tackling Loneliness’ work.

Nearly two-thirds of disabled people who felt lonely agreed that being active could help them feel less lonely. This highlights the vital role sport and physical activity can play in disabled people’s lives and wider society.

Reflecting on the need to see urgent action ahead of International Day of Disabled People, John Amaechi OBE, Activity Alliance Vice President said:

"Nobody can deny the impact that sport and physical activity, when done well, can have on people’s lives. But we cannot sit back on our laurels if we have thousands of disabled people still feeling excluded, left out or dismissed. Our research earlier this year gave an indication of what more accessible opportunities could do, particularly when addressing mental health and isolation. The government have rightly committed to focusing on increasing activity levels across the board, but without addressing the specific inequalities that disabled people face in sport, you risk leaving behind those who are hit the hardest by inactivity.
"Disabled people want more influence on the policies that affect them and the activities they are involved in. Nearly two-thirds of disabled people told us in our research that the government should be focusing on making activities affordable to help more people to be active. We need the government to understand the wider challenges that people are facing around cost of living and match it with the level of investment, innovation and policy change that proves they are taking these issues seriously."

At the heart of government discussions in Westminster, a shining example of inclusive activity takes place every week. ‘Dance Westminster’, an initiative for disabled students to stay active and express themselves through accessible dance classes. 18-year-old participant Marieleynne, who is autistic, expressed the importance of sessions like this, saying:  

"I have always loved dancing, but I have never had the chance to be on stage due to stage fright. Yet years later, here I am – not just facing my fears but following my dreams. Fun sessions like this are amazing for me and my friends. I want to be active, but I want the right support to do it.
"I used to struggle with being different and feel insecure about it but now I understand that being different is a good thing. The more help we can get to stay dancing together and help everyone who wants to take part to feel welcome, we will have even more people getting involved."