Inclusive Sport shouldn’t be at the Expense of exclusive opportunities

The current increase in inclusive sport is definitely a positive way forward for disability, but it should not be at the expense of exclusive opportunities for disabled children and adults says SportsAble’s CEO Kerl Haslam.

There remains a strong argument for providing disabled people with increased opportunities to access exclusive sport, and other health and well-being activities, because the barrier to participation can run much deeper than the visible physical hindrances.

Understandably, some newly disabled people don’t always want to be seen in public because they are still learning to cope with limited mobility as well as the psychological effects of their new situation, which can compound their sense of feeling different.

Unfortunately, this can force many disabled people to retreat into the safety and isolation of their own four walls and the company of close family and friends, which can lead to depression and a sense of complete hopelessness which is difficult for both the individual and their families.

This is where an exclusive environment, such as SportsAble can be literally life-changing. It is a nurturing setting, filled with people who have gone through similar journeys and, most importantly, they are there to understand and encourage, sharing the pain and the laughter with others.

Understanding the journey that a newly disabled person goes through is crucial to meeting their unique needs and providing them with the support that they may require. Others may sympathise with the situation, but only a disabled person can truly identify with all that this may encompass. There is no better counsel for someone at this stage of their recovery, than a  person who has been through a similar journey and successfully moved from a situation of despair to the enjoyment of overcoming their adversity.

At SportsAble we witness first-hand incredible individuals who move from hopelessness and despair to a new-found confidence which enables them to socialise and take part in activities and sport. It is at this point, when their self-esteem is sufficient enough, they are comfortable integrating back into society and partaking in inclusive sport and activities.

Another argument against all sport being inclusive is that it can end up not serving anyone particularly well because, more often than not, able-bodied people aren’t challenged and pushed, while disabled participants don’t feel good enough and ultimately no-one has a good experience.

It can work when adapted sports, such as Wheelchair Basketball, Table Tennis, Boccia, New Age Kurling and Archery, are played by both able-bodied and disabled participants providing a level playing field for everyone and creating a real sense of competition and achievement.

When it comes to children, there is definitely a place for more inclusive opportunities in schools, and disability sport should become part of a PE Teacher’s degree and training so that it can be delivered in curriculum time. The benefits for this would be three-fold; increasing awareness of disability, encouraging compassion among pupils and creating an environment where disabled children feel a sense of belonging.

There is also a real misconception regarding the finances of a family with a disabled member. There are no benefits that can make up for the loss of earnings from someone not working. This means most individuals cannot afford the required £40-50 monthly membership fees that private and local authority centres charge. SportsAble understands this and through its huge fundraising efforts, it can provide a heavily subsidised membership of just £6.25 per month which provides free access to all sports.

Transport can also be a huge issue for disabled people who can’t drive and have to rely on friends and family for support. If no-one is available to help, the cost of taxis creates another obstacle to participating in an active lifestyle.

Finally, there is more to delivering disability sport than having the right equipment. Coaches needs to be trained and experienced in dealing with disabled people, being aware of the language they use and the specific needs that particular conditions require. For example, Cerebral Palsy isn’t just physical, there are other issues such as sensitivity to noise and smells that can trigger anxiety.

The Government and other organisations need to stop putting all disabled people in the same bracket and continue to fund exclusive environments where everyone’s uniqueness can be catered for.  It is only when a disabled person is supported and guided through the physical and emotional journey of disability that they can truly integrate into an inclusive setting.

This is why SportsAble is committed to building new facilities for Berkshire and to roll-out a national framework for disability centres throughout the UK.