Variety calls for a ‘level playing field’ for disabled people

21 July 2017

London is currently hosting the World Para Athletics Championships and much has rightly been made of Team GB’s considerable current and past successes in disabled sport. Whether Britain’s elite success mirrors what is happening at the grassroots level is however contentious, as a report released last week by global children’s charity Variety demonstrates.

Variety’s report, Sporting opportunities for children with disabilities - Is there a Level Playing Field?, notes that a staggering 50% of parents in Britain with a child with disabilities say their child doesn’t feel comfortable taking part in sports, and just one in five parents surveyed say their disabled child plays sports with their friends.

The report also highlights a prevalent social stigma associated with disability which discourages participation, as well as significant financial costs which deny many disabled children opportunities to take part in physical activity.

Variety’s conclusions are also mirrored by the results of Sport England’s Active People Survey, which has shown that the proportion of disabled people participating in sport at least once a week is now only 16.8%, and has been declining consistently for the past three years.

It is not just the health benefits disabled children are denied by their exclusion from sport that should concern us however, as the problem of falling participation also permeates beyond into the fields of academic success, and the wider cultural and emotional wellbeing of disabled people.

Public Health England has, for instance, long argued that education and physical activity are inexorably linked, with pupils playing sport likely to achieve between 10-20% higher GCSE grades.

Central YMCA has always believed that disability should never be a barrier to participation in sport, and that sport has the capacity to transform young people’s health, happiness and well-being. It is therefore crucial that we as a nation face up to the challenges Variety’s report identifies and that we continue to champion para sport so that our young people are properly equipped to lead fulfilling lives.

YMCAfit, in partnership with national disabilities charity Aspire, is already taking steps to reach out to disabled young people through our InstructAbility programme, which won a Big Society Award in 2013.

InstructAbility provides free gym instructor training for disabled people that allows them to gain employment within the fitness industry. Successful completion of the initial 21-day course leads to an internationally recognised CYQ Level 2 Certificate in Gym Instructing, and as part of the second phase of the InstructAbility programme, learners are placed on a voluntary industry work placement at an IFI gym. As part of their placement, learners work to engage other local disabled people with physical activity, therefore creating a virtuous circle that encourages ever more disabled people to take up sport.

It is hoped that InstructAbility can help tackle the substantial under-representation and the prejudice which people with disabilities who work in the fitness sector still face, and that participation in the programme can help disabled people build rewarding and purposeful careers.

250,000 tickets have so far been sold for the World Para Athletics Championships, and Britain currently has an impressive grand total of 13 gold medals. We must, however, do more to build on this success if we are to provide disabled young people with the tools they need to live happy and fulfilling lives. InstructAbility is just one step in the right direction.

InstructAbility is available to all disabled people, so long as they are over 16 years old and have some previous knowledge of using gym equipment. To find out about upcoming courses or for more information, please contact Hilary Farmiloe, Aspire Inclusion Manager, on 020 8420 6730 (office), 07917 822977 (mobile) or email