Statistics released last weekend showed that 86% of sports clubs had noticed no change in the number of membership enquiries they had received from people with disabilities since the Paralympics. This must act as a wake-up call for the clubs – but they will have to take into account the needs of people with learning, as well as physical, disabilities.
The study of hundreds of clubs throughout the UK by the Sport and Recreation Alliance also found that only 1 in 4 said they had the right combination of suitable facilities, trained staff and appropriate equipment to enable people with disabilities to participate
This low figure will probably not surprise anyone with a learning disability, or who supports someone with a learning disability, who has tried to access mainstream sports facilities. There are many stories of people with learning disabilities – such as Owen Miller – being turned away because clubs didn’t have the facilities to cater for their needs.
While organisations such as Special Olympics GB, which provides training and competition in 26 sports for people with learning disabilities through some 130 voluntary-run clubs, do great work, mainstream clubs need to become more accessible too, if the Paralympic legacy is not to be lost.
The Olympics and Paralympics have created unprecedented interest in sports in the UK and we have to capitalise on that. The benefits of sporting activity are legion – from boosting fitness, to making new friends and learning new skills – and can really improve a person’s quality of life. But without a club to go to, individuals’ interest could easily wane, and the benefits will be lost.
And, as I’ve said above, sports clubs have to remember to take into account people with learning disabilities and their needs and not just those with physical disabilities, if they are planning adaptations or more training for staff.
Initiatives like London-based Step into Dance, which is the largest sustainable community dance programme in the UK, according to the Royal Academy of Dance, show what can be done. It has seen the number of children with physical and/or learning disabilities signing up to its classes jump by a third, since the Paralympics.
Nearly 400 new students with varying degrees of disability have signed up for Step into Dance’s 2012/13 programme. Overall, some 6,000 students are taking part, of whom, 1,137 have a disability.
Operating in some 200 schools throughout London and Essex, Step into Dance provides free, quality dance teaching to students of all abilities aged 11-18 years old. Sue Goodman, artistic director of Step into Dance, credits the upturn in interest to the Paralympics. “Prior to last summer, many disabled students would not have considered taking part in dance lessons. However, the Paralympics has motivated them to see beyond their physical restrictions, and to be inspired by the possibilities that dance can offer.”
Step into Dance, and organisations like Special Olympics GB, show what can be done. There is no reason why more sports clubs – and dance groups – can’t do something similar.