accessible sport

The popularity of accessible sport & where to go to play them

The DWP Family Resources Survey, covering the period 2015/16, highlighted that England has 11.5 million disabled people — that’s close to 20 per cent of the country’s entire population. Sport England has also found in its Active Lives report that disabled people are twice as likely to be physically inactive when compared to non-disabled people, although the Activity Alliance has established in its own study that seven out of ten disabled people have a desire to become more active.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who is a multiple Paralympic champion, has looked into the subject of participating in accessible sports and pointed out: “The barriers [to participation] range from accessibility to staff training, but the good news is the physical activity sector is committed to delivering inclusive services for all.

“With ukactive, the not-for-profit body comprised of members and partners from across the UK active lifestyle sector, we are 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.”

If you’re looking to start playing accessible sport but unsure where to begin, we’ve teamed up with innovative stair lifts manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts to produce this guide on the popularity of these activities and where you can go around the country to get involved…

Participation numbers

Accessible sports are enjoyed by so many people throughout the country and worldwide, with a wide variety of activities to choose from too.

On a global scale, take the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games as an example. This prestigious occasion was made up of 177 events — an increase of seven from the number recorded at the London 2012 Paralympic Games — which included everything from archery and athletics all the way through to cycling, football, swimming and table tennis. 1,136 Para athletes formed 146 participating teams as well, in an event which celebrated 69 new world records being set.

Keeping on the worldwide scene, the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) has claimed that blind football has now become one of the most popular sports across the entire Paralympic programme. According to figures which the governing body gathered after the 2017 Continental Championships, a total of 36 countries took part in the regional events; 15 from across Europe, 11 from the Americas, six from Asia and four from Africa. The complete number is up 28 per cent from the 28 countries which competed in the championships in 2015 and a huge 71 per cent increase from the 2013 event.

In a statement, the IBSA acknowledged: “Statistics released by IBSA show how blind football is expanding and growing globally to become one of the most popular Paralympic sports in the world. Data compiled from all the official IBSA 2017 international blind football championships show a significant increase in the number of countries taking part in the events and an expansion of the game to reach new parts of the world.”

Turn our attention to just the UK and there’s plenty more positive statistics to discover, such as…

  • The British Wheelchair Basketball organisation claiming that more than 1,000 hours of wheelchair basketball is played throughout the nation every day.
  • The Football Association finding that there were 94 affiliated powerchair football teams based in England as of January 2017, as well as over 1,000 players training in the sport on a weekly basis.
  • The Tennis Foundation stating that 12,689 disabled people played tennis on a monthly basis at British venues which were involved in disability-specific sports development programmes in 2018.

Commenting on the popularity of the disability tennis programme, the Tennis Foundation’s National Disability Development Manager Jill Osleger said: “We are absolutely delighted with the impact our work in driving disability tennis is having. To have turned what we launched in 2013 into one of the biggest disability-specific sports development programmes in the country is a phenomenal achievement.”

Ms Osleger was also keen to point out: “Tennis really is an adaptable sport that can be for anyone, and there are proven benefits for a person’s physical and mental health, social life and personal development. We’d encourage anyone to get along to a session, pick up a racket and give it a go!”

How to get involved in an accessible sport

There are so many options available to you if you’re keen to start playing an accessible sport, wherever you live across the UK. Just take a look at the opportunities available as listed by Parasport, which has an ambition to establish the nation’s largest fun and vibrant community for players, coaches and parents to share their experiences of para-sport, and you’ll discover:

  • There are 38 opportunities to play football, which includes places where you can give powerchair football a go.
  • There are 18 opportunities to get involved in wheelchair basketball.
  • There are 15 opportunities to get active by playing tennis, which includes venues that host wheelchair tennis sessions.
  • There are 22 opportunities to take up athletics, the sport of paratriathlon or wheelchair triathlon.

In total, Parasport has listed 160 opportunities throughout the UK covering over 60 different activities — there is sure to be a sport or way of getting fit which will appeal to you.

Should you still be apprehensive about getting involved in accessible sport though, Disability Rights UK’s comprehensive Doing Sport Differently guide is a recommended read. Baroness Grey-Thompson believes that “this publication could change your life”, due to it detailing how to access both sports and leisure opportunities within and near to your neighbourhood.

The multi-Paralympic medal winner added: “The ideas and suggestions in this guide and the stories of others’ experiences helped me to think about what I wanted. Just as you will, I found the right way for me.

“Sport and sports facilities are far more accessible to all than they were when I started racing in the 1980s. Doing Sport Differently is the first-ever guide to sport written by disabled people for disabled people designed to enable us to take full advantage of this. There is no reason why we shouldn’t get as much out of sport and exercise as non-disabled people. I am living proof of that.”


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