A summer of sport, but not for disabled people

Tracey Proudlock on July 20, 2021

Wimbledon, the Euros, Silverstone, the Olympics, Tour de France – we have definitely been spoilt for choice this year with sport, especially after so many events were postponed or cancelled last year.  Inevitably, this means there will be a surge of people wanting to get out there and give it a go themselves. But it’s not that easy for all of us.

While the rate at which disabled people are taking up sports has increased significantly, there’s 14 million of us and we’re still facing barriers to getting involved. This includes everything from the lack of accessible transport to facilities which simply don’t allow disabled people to participate.

And while it’s great that new research will look at the impact the pandemic has had on disability sports, the reality is barriers existed before the pandemic and it’s these barriers we need to be tackling head on.

Barriers to inclusion in sport

In March 2021, Sport England launched ‘Uniting the Movement’, with a focus on tackling inequalities and removing barriers to activities. According to reports these barriers for disabled people are immense and include issues such as:

  • Finding accessible transport to get to the venue
  • Lack of wheelchair spaces
  • Lack of adequate accessible toilet and changing facilities
  • Lack of accessible information
  • Not being able to book accessible seating online
  • Staff with limited knowledge and awareness of accessibility

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped as it has made accessing opportunities to be active a lot harder, especially for disabled people. Not only are more than half of disabled people worried about leaving home to be active, they are also less likely than non-disabled people to have found new ways to be active during the pandemic. And for people with a lung or mental health condition, coronavirus itself poses a barrier to being active.

On a positive note, Sport England is very much focused on an inclusive return to activity and are adding a further £20 million to the Tackling Inequalities Fund, which goes to clubs and organisations that provide services to disabled people.

Tackling barriers with inclusive design

But the reality is it is possible to tackle a lot of the barriers faced by disabled people at sports venues simply by embracing inclusive design.

a Pool Pod and a submersible wheelchair alongside the Pool Pod Stand.
Here is a Pool Pod stand and a submersible wheelchair – handy for independent access to a swimming pool.

Inclusive design is about designing sports facilities to meet the needs of anyone who wants to use them. And that isn’t just about providing wheelchair access, but about catering for people with a wide range of impairments, such as visual, hearing and learning difficulties.

It’s one of the reasons, why a few years ago, we produced the Disabled Access Guidelines for the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). Providing guidance to clubs planning a refurbishment or extension, it not only sets out the legal obligations for making sports venues accessible to disabled people but also provides guidelines on how best to meet these requirements.

The guidelines cover areas such as:

  • Accessible car parking
  • Accessible routes from the car park to the venue
  • Reception
  • Signage
  • Sports chair zones

While it’s great that a body such as the LTA is providing this guidance to their clubs, the reality is retrospectively making a building accessible is always going to be more difficult and costly than getting it right first time.

It’s why inclusive design should be part of any new building plans. As Sport England put it  “Good design needs to be embraced with the earliest vision statement… and enshrined in the initial briefing stage through to the final detailed specifications and operational arrangements.”

Accessibility doesn’t stop with inclusive design

But while inclusive design is important, it isn’t the be all and end all. Current building regulations outline the standards sports venues should meet, and the Equality Act 2010 includes a requirement that service providers make all ‘reasonable adjustments’ to remove barriers that make accessing services difficult or impossible for disabled people. However, they don’t necessarily take into account the other things disabled people want and need.

What about training staff so they have a full awareness of accessibility or providing information about facilities in a variety of formats including an Easy Read version? What about providing accessible transport to the facilities or specialist sports training? Accessibility isn’t just about building design.

And while it’s great if a sports venue is accessible, can disabled people actually participate in sports? Everyone should be able to experience the thrill of winning (and despair of losing!), but too often people think disabled people just want to watch other people. And that raises another important point. If you are looking to make your sports venue accessible, then the best people to help are those that experience the barriers first-hand.  Don’t assume, ask.

Steps are being made in the right direction

The good news is steps are being made to change the status quo, such as the Sport England ‘Uniting Movement’ strategy, directly working with disabled people to co-produce a more accessible and inclusive system. (On a side note, all their information is available in alternative formats – a great example of best practice.)

There are also a number of new initiatives which focus on participation. The LTA has just launched a new wheelchair tennis initiative to attract and  inspire  people with physical impairments in sport; the Achieving Inclusion Together 2018-2021 strategy by Activity Alliance highlights the importance of participation; and Get Yourself Active provides a whole wealth of resources to stay active.

Tracey Proudlock competiting at an LTA wheelchair tennis tournament.

There is still a long way to go, but it’s good to see positive things happening.

Need help or advice?

Ensuring disabled people can participate fully in sports means we need more inclusive sports facilities, so if you are building a sports venue or planning a refurbishment, we can help you get it right.

As well as explain the obligations that you have to disabled people when it comes to accessibility, we can review your plans to ensure an inclusive design.  Give us a call on 0845 130 1669, or email Tracey Proudlock at tracey@proudlockassociates.com