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Let’s make physical activity fit for all

Indoor Swimming Pool

The power of physical activity to create and unite communities is showing itself online, right now. Gyms and leisure centres are closed, most of us in are in lockdown and ‘The Body Coach’ Joe Wicks is the rising star.

He is broadcasting P.E Lessons every weekday morning on YouTube for schoolchildren stuck at home. Hundreds of thousands of people, of all ages, are tuning in to get an energetic start to the day.

As well as a workout, his half-hour of cardio and banter also build camaraderie among families, friends and neighbours. While everyone takes part in the privacy of their homes, they know many others are doing (or trying to do) the same lunges and bunny hops, at the same time, all over the world. It gives us something to share and talk about.

However, older and disabled people are often left out of these activities that have the power to unite. Most online content is developed for the average able-bodied person.

Tanni Grey-Thompson’s Twitter takeover

Unsurprisingly, multiple Paralympic champion Tanni Grey-Thompson took action to set this straight on Twitter, by running a wheelchair workout (with remote support from Dame Kelly Holmes). See

While many online fitness providers have the odd session for older and disabled people, there are pioneers delivering online sessions specifically for these communities. A YouTube search for ‘chair yoga’ provides quite the selection. For example, there’s free content from Wheely Good Fitness, founded by Kris Saunders-Stowe, who is a wheelchair user himself. He provides a choice of Wheely Good Fitness videos at his website.

Drive for participation

Looking beyond the current crisis, the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games ignited involvement in sport among disabled people but this flame looks to be flickering out. Sport England figures show that the number of disabled people participating in sport and weekly exercise plummeted by 10 per cent between 2012 and 2016.

Baroness Grey-Thompson is also chair of the UKactive board. She has said there is ‘no simple answer’ to increase the number of disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity.

She says: ‘It’s crucial we talk about participation levels and use the latest data as a starting point to work from – it’s a sign of more needs to be done. The barriers range from accessibility to staff training, but the good news is the physical activity sector is committed to delivering inclusive services for all.’

UKactive is a not-for-profit body with members and partners from across the UK active lifestyle sector. It is working with Sport England on the ‘Everyone Can’ project to create a cultural shift and change perceptions around disabled people’s participation in physical activity. Read UKactive blog about Everyone Can.

Inaccessible venues

Disabled people want to be more active but desire isn’t always enough when sports facilities aren’t inclusive and designed for everyone. In fact, the biggest barriers to the disabled community are the physically inaccessible sports venues, gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools.

Just last month actor, presenter and disability rights campaigner Samantha Renke wrote in the Metro ‘I want to work out but most gyms don’t cater for people like me’.

She also teamed up with Channel 4 to explore how the fitness industry treats people with disabilities. She outlines what the disabled community needs to bring down barriers, which includes:

  • user-friendly equipment,
  • adequate parking facilities,
  • changing rooms and,
  • staff training.

Purple pound

Inclusive design and accessibility is good for business

There is a pressing need to address inclusive design and accessibility in sports venues and facilities.

Not only because we all desire a more inclusive world, but also because of the purchasing power of the Purple Pound. Organisations are missing out on the business of disabled consumers and their families due to poor accessibility. This crisis will end; consider a whole new range of customers you can attract when it does.

Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 makes discrimination against disabled people illegal. It includes a requirement that service providers make all ‘reasonable adjustments’ to remove barriers that make accessing their services more difficult or impossible for disabled people.

Service providers should be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act, especially when designing new facilities or refurbishing existing ones.

Here to help

This is where Proudlock Associates can help.

We can explain the obligations that sports venues and facilities have to disabled people when it comes to accessibility through our access audits and access consultancy. We can guide you on how best to satisfy these requirements at your venue, and review your plans to ensure an inclusive design.

Though there are many factors to consider when making sports venues and leisure centres accessible for everyone, they are not insurmountable.

Get in touch with us at Proudlock Associates to find out more and how we can help you create more inclusive sports facilities.

We dream of a world where disabled people can take up and develop their talents and thrive in their chosen sport. And enjoy the vital camaraderie in a crisis.