Remote control – How Living Options Devon helped their community access physical activity

Remote control – How Living Options Devon helped their community access physical activity

As restrictions lifted this week, we have been uncovering what effects the pandemic has had on how Disabled people are getting active. This piece is the third and final of three stories and we have spoken to Living Options Devon to see what the pandemic has changed for them in their efforts to empower Disabled and Deaf people to live the life they choose. You can revisit the entire series here.

Living Options Devon works in the South West to ensure that Disabled and Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) can live the life they choose with no limits. They provide a wide range of help and support services for Disabled and Deaf people and have been a lifeline in their community.

As part of this, they work tirelessly to help people access the things that matter to them, from physical activity to emotional support and counselling, so that disabled and Deaf people can live the life they choose.  . Living Options Devon has a mantra of ‘Stronger Together’, and we wanted to take a look at how things changed for them when the pandemic cut off in-person contact.

The importance of independence

Keeping active is a central part of feeling independent, positive and healthy. Living Options Devon understands better than most that keeping active is a core tenant to anyone aspiring to live an independent life. Even before the pandemic, getting active was a challenge for the Deaf community. Only 10% of the almost 11 million Deaf people in the UK reported that they take part in sport once a week – with 1 in 5 experiencing a barrier that prevents them from participating.

In this regard, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated issues. Sure, Youtube channels like Yoga with Adrienne or The Body Coach has become shorthand for the ‘average’ lockdown exercise experience, but these are not viable options for many members of the Deaf community. From basic issues such as inaccurate captions to the lack of BSL interpretation available, despite the wide array of online resources available, many of Living Options’ users found themselves further cut off from participation, once tailored in-person sessions were cancelled.

A member of the Deaf-lead team at Living Options Devon uses a tablet computer to video call a service user

Searching for further support

The aim was simple – allow Deaf people to participate in physical activity. With the pandemic putting existing income streams at risk, the team connected to Get Yourself Active to help them access the Tackling Inequalities Fund set up by Sport England – this exists to help to reduce the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the widening of the inequalities in sport and physical activity.

They decided to use this additional support in a variety of different ways they knew would help. Firstly, they developed resources and signposted accessible fitness sessions on their social media pages and YouTube channels. From an accessible coach to 5K series to a fitness DVD with BSL interpretation, they were able to encourage their audience to take part in physical activity in ways that worked for them, offering mentoring and peer support to improve confidence and motivation.

The response from users to the social media content and online fitness sessions was overwhelmingly positive – some participants reported doing more activity than they had before the pandemic by using the virtual resources that had been made available. Many felt that it was empowering to have the exercises available to be done in their own time and within the comfort of their own space, rather than the larger logistical challenge of going to a new venue to participate.

A bright future ahead

Living Options Devon’s story is perhaps one of the common tales of the digital shift that the pandemic has hoisted upon many across society. Their pivot to accessible digital-first operations meant they could support the Deaf community, and make sure that no one was left behind.

Alongside the obvious effects in helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, the project helped to keep people connected and physically active during the pandemic. It can’t be understated how this dampened the impact of the pandemic on individuals, supporting their wellbeing and empowering them through access to advice and resources to keep them fit and healthy.

So, what’s next for Living Options Devon? We caught up with Kelly Mavro, Research and Evaluation Manager at Living Options Devonaxs to see how they felt about restrictions easing, and what is next for them?

“The easing of restrictions mean that we can work towards encouraging the people we support to get out and about and take part in physical activity/sport in a covid safe way.  This will support mental and physical wellbeing and allow people in our communities to reconnect with each other, reducing loneliness and isolation.

We will be offering volunteer-based peer support to help encourage local Deaf people to take part in sport or other activity as well as providing Deaf awareness and BSL training to local sports providers to improve accessibility.”

Enjoyed the blog and want to learn more about Living Options Devon? Visit their website here.