A sporting chance for disabled people?

Posted on 09/07/2014 by


Sport brings about  ‘transformation’ in attitudes to disabled people?

sportNearly 70% of the British public feel attitudes towards disabled people have improved since the London Paralympic Games in 2012, according to new statistics published by the government. But while public opinion may be changing, disability campaigners say the government itself must do more to support disabled people – in sport and in work opportunities.

The findings from the DWP survey are from one of the most detailed surveys of its kind and marks the second anniversary of the Paralympic Games in London.

It also comes as we approach the first anniversary of the ‘Disability Confident’ campaign – designed to break down barriers in employing disabled people. Disability Confident was launched by the Prime Minister David Cameron and has showcased the talents of disabled people across the country.

Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “London 2012 helped lead to a transformation in the representation of, and attitudes towards, disabled people in Britain. It challenged mind-sets and left a positive lasting legacy. But more still needs to be done to challenge perceptions.

“Twelve million people in Britain have a disability – that’s 1 in 5 of us. Disabled people have the same aspirations as everyone else, particularly in the workplace. That is why we have travelled round the country over the past year with the likes of Sophie Christiansen and Simon Weston to speak to big business about employing more disabled people”.

The employment rate for disabled people has increased gradually over the years to 45%. The government kick-started a 2 year advertising campaign to support businesses to become more confident at recruiting disabled people, as more disabled jobseekers cite employers’ attitudes as a barrier to work than transport.

The government says changes in attitudes are already leading to positive developments for disabled people across the country:

  • Disabled people are moving into work or training at the rate of 100 placements every working day.
  • 315,000 more disabled people are playing sport regularly now than in 2005.
  • Professional football clubs are moving to make improvements to the accessibility of their stadiums, after the government called for urgent action and after the Olympic Park showed what was possible.
  • BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and BSKYB have pledged to increase the number of disabled people in the broadcasting industry.
  • Over 8,100 rail carriages now comply with modern accessibility standards and over £500m will have been spent on upgrading railway stations to become more accessible by 2019.
  • London’s 8,500 buses are now fully low-floor accessible and all of London’s 22,000 black cabs have wheelchair ramps.
  • 66 tube stations are now step-free and TFL plan to make a further 28 London Underground and Overground stations step-free over the next decade.
  • Professional institutions in the built environment for architects, town planners, surveyors, facilities management and engineers have committed to making their professionals proficient in inclusive design.

Paralympic triple-gold medallist Sophie Christiansen: said: “London 2012 not only inspired a generation, it challenged the ideas of a generation about what disabled people were capable of. Just because we might be a bit different does not mean we should be looked at any differently. We all have unique talents and deserve the opportunity to fulfil our true potential.”

Next month’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will feature more disabled athletes than ever in the competition’s history, with 50 from Britain’s home nations alone. They will compete in 20 events covering the five core Para-Sports: athletics, lawn bowls, powerlifting, swimming and cycling.

wheelchairsCapability Scotland and Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) have been running The Solution Series, pop up think tanks that bring people together to seek solutions to specific barriers to independent living.  One of the topics recently discussed was disabled people’s equal participation in sport.

With Wimbledon producing a British champion in the wheelchair doubles, the World Cup reaching it’s climax and the Commonwealth Games just around the corner, sport is on everyone’s minds. Disabled people’s participation in sport has received more press in recent years – the London 2012 Paralympics being the largest to date – but there is still a long way to go to ensure that disabled people equally participate in sport, according to charity Capability Scotland.

An inclusive approach to sport is key to help ensure disabled people can fully participate in society. The most recent think tank by ILiS discussed participation of disabled people in sport, and ways in which to encourage this, with five key solutions identified .

The benefits of exercise and physical activity are wide ranging, yet disabled people are often excluded from sporting activities. The latest Scottish Health Survey found that significantly less disabled people reached recommended levels of physical activity,

Eric Mitchell, Policy Projects Manager at Capability Scotland, who contributed to the think tank, said “Capability Scotland is committed to encouraging disabled people to participate in sports. Solutions that came out of the most recent think tank are an important step forward in disabled people’s full participation in society. Recent activities that have been going on across our services highlight our commitment to disabled people’s equal participation in sport.”

“As part of Commonwealth Games celebrations, our services have been holding a range of sporting activities designed to encourage customers to develop their sporting skills and try out new activities, from seated volleyball to boccia (boules). A range of different sports providers from the local communities have come in to Capability Scotland services to run taster sessions.

“As a result of the success of these events, new plans for sports and leisure activities across services have been put in place. We are looking forward to continue to work alongside ILiS to ensure that disabled people have the equal opportunities to participate in sport.”

athleteDespite advances, however, it’s no level playing field and The Federation of Disability Sport has complied statistics that illustrate that there is still some way to go in changing attitudes to disability. For example:

  • One hundred and eighty disability hate crimes are committed every day in this country.
  • Fear and loss of confidence are the most common consequences of disability harassment.
  • Prosecutions and convictions for disability hate crime fell in 2011/12 after rising three years in a row – only partly due to fewer referrals from the police

And there are other barriers to participation – the opportunity to take part in sport and other social activities is often the last thing on the mind of some disabled people. For a considerable number, keeping a roof over their head, and finding enough money to both heat their homes and eat healthily is a daily challenge.

Earlier this week a group of eighty charities published a new report which accuses the UK government of systematically violating human rights law in it’s treatment of disabled people. The Just Fair report claims the government’s austerity programme and welfare reforms have undermined the rights of disabled people,  causing ‘significant hardship.’

Professor of International Human Rights Law Aoife Nolan, who is a trustee of Just Fair, said: “Not only do these policies cause significant hardship and anxiety but they also amount to impermissable backward steps in relation to disabled peoples’ human right, contrary to the UN human rights framework.”

Unsurprisingly the government has dismissed the report, which has now been submitted to United Nations. Disability Minister Mike Penning – yes, the same man who heralded the ‘transformation’ – said the reforms are necessary to ‘fix a broken system”.

So while society’s attitudes to disabled people may be changing, there’s still a long long way to go. We’re still many miles away from awarding any gold medals.