By Jenny McLoughlin
How do disabled people become more active? I still cannot believe that in the 21st century people are still asking questions about how disabled people can become more active and be involved in sport? Surely we have come to a point in time where there should be an automatic gateway to be involved in sport and for there not to be a barrier for people being able to access sport. Just under four years ago London hosted the biggest Paralympic Games there has ever been, which showcased to the world, disabled athletes participating in the highest level of sport, I should know I competed at these iconic Games.
The London Paralympic Games showcased disabled sport at its pinnacle. To inspire the next generation was paramount of the legacy of the Games. So why is it to this day there is only 17.8% of disabled people partake in sport compared to 39.2% of their non-disabled counterparts? Through this blog I will share some of my own experiences of being an elite disabled athlete, discuss the barriers that arise with disabled access to having an active lifestyle, and what more needs to be done in allowing everyone to be involved in sport.
By writing this blog I had a numerous of questions I asked myself about sport. The two main questions are; what does sport mean to me and why did I choose to get involved? The word that jumps out to me about what sport means to me is ‘inclusion’. Sport by nature is inclusive, it is for all no matter the ability. Everyone can take part in sport if they wish to do so. That is what is so fantastic about the event I am working on called Parallel London. Parallel London is hosting the world’s first inclusive fun push/run happening the Olympic Park on the 4th September. It is meant for everyone not just for the disabled community, nor is it an event for non-disabled people. It is a day where every person or group in society can come together and take part in a bit of sporting history. It is not an event necessarily to gain PB’s, it is an event for everyone to partake in regardless of ability. That is also the main message of the Olympic and Paralympic Games – it is the taking part that counts which is so true of the vision of Parallel London.
Enjoyment is the basis of where I started my sporting career over ten years ago, and why I chose to get involved in athletics. From an early age I loved all sports it gave me confidence and the ability to do something I loved. Aged fourteen I joined a local running club with a mixture of non-disabled and disabled athletes. I never wanted to be typecast as a disabled person trying to have a go at sport, I was an athlete like everyone else in my training group. I couldn’t run as fast as some others – I came last in most races! But I was still able to run within my own ability and the people around me embraced that. At the end of the day I was an athlete like everyone else.
I am fully aware that disabled people find it more difficult to have an active lifestyle due the physical and psychological barriers we may face. Thankfully, there is much more in place now so that disabled people can have an active lifestyle. There are numerous sports clubs that cater for specific sports including wheelchair Basketball and wheelchair Rugby. Nowadays, most leisure facilities and schools will have a contact to inform you how to access sport or they have disabled sports clubs themselves. There are also national organisations which focus on disabled sport across a range of sports that people can do. Of course, more needs to be done for people being aware and becoming involved in sport. Having major national events like Parallel London will only enhance this and help drive participation of disabled people being involved in sport.
Sport gives you a determination and ‘a can do’ attitude, and I believe that needs to be reinforced especially among the disabled community. For people with disabilities a reason they may not partake in sport is they believe they are not good enough. We want to help to change that feeling which is why inclusion in sport is key. Events such as Parallel London and projects like Get Yourself Active will enhance the belief that every person is good enough to take part, and physical activity and sport is for everyone.
From my own experience in athletics, sport gives you so much more than just being active, it instills confidence, self-worth and the health benefits that come from sport. Whether it is a team sport like football or an individual sport like athletics,
you are essentially part of community in which you make friends and be encouraged by team mates. Sport allows friendships to form and I myself have made lifelong friends through my sporting career.
Throughout this blog, the key message I have tried to bring out is there must be inclusion in sport. Inclusion is what will bring everyone together to participate in sport. I believe there is no reason that the 17.8% disabled people that currently participate in sport should not be equivalent to 39.2% of their non-disabled counterparts. Events such as Parallel London will only help to raise this figure and give disabled people a pathway to be involved and achieve in sport. A final note, one of the key ideas that came out of the Paralympic Games is that spectators saw an ability instead of a disability in the athletes competing. That message is still true today and needs to be conveyed to a wider audience. That is why on the 4th September I will be lining up at the start line at the Olympic park.