Half of people with learning disabilities want to take part in more physical activity, but feel that a lack of support prevents them from doing so, new research has found.
This barrier is significantly more influential for people with learning disabilities than it is for those with physical disabilities, according to a new report by the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS). Only 25% of people with physical disabilities say it is a barrier.
EFDS’ study into disabled people’s lifestyles and their participation in physical activity also found that being fun is the most important reason to take part for people with learning disabilities – even more important than for those people with other impairments who completed the survey.
In addition, only 50% of people with learning disabilities take part in sport or physical activity to improve health, compared to 68% of those with other impairments.
Meanwhile, 79% of people with learning disabilities said spending time with family members was important to them – the most important thing from the options presented. This suggests that offering opportunities where families can take part together is important.
Overall, more than 60% of people with disabilities surveyed claimed that either a lack of awareness of opportunities or a lack of available opportunities is what prevents them from taking part in sport and physical activity.
More than half of disabled people surveyed (51%) are not enjoying their experiences of sport in school, compared to 69% enjoying taking part in sport or physical activity with friends outside of school.
Gap between ambition and reality
Barry Horne, chief executive of EFDS, said: “This report highlights that there is still a big gap between ambition and reality when it comes to disabled people’s participation in physical activity. There has been a huge focus on elite level participation and the Paralympics produced fantastic role models but the real work and change is required at the grassroots level.
“If people are being turned off participating in sport because of their experience at school for example, it creates a much greater challenge to engage people later in life when their behaviours and attitudes towards sports participation are more deeply ingrained. For disabled people who are keen to be active and want to be included, the development, delivery and active promotion of appropriate opportunities is essential.
“The fact that disabled people’s participation in sport is much lower than non-disabled people is a serious concern, especially as the benefits of physical activity to health and wellbeing are widely known. Our research will help inform policy and practice that enables full participation at every level of sport.”
Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson welcomed the research: “EFDS have produced research which is both telling and timely as we seek to broaden opportunities for sporting participation and physical activity amongst disabled people. The findings should be used to influence and drive forward a key area of work.”
Lisa O’Keefe, director of sport at Sport England, said: “Last summer’s Paralympic Games sent a very clear message that disabled people can play and excel at sport. To capitalise upon the momentum generated and convert interest into taking part, it is important for those delivering sport to have a good understanding of peoples behaviours, choices and motivations. This survey helps by providing valuable insight into the needs and requirements of disabled people, helping to shape our future work in creating more opportunities to enable disabled people to play sport.”