Physical activity and sport needs to be redesigned to be more enjoyable for disabled people, according to new research

The study, led by Manchester Metropolitan University, provides insight into the experiences of, and attitudes to, sport and physical activity for disabled people.

It found that a perceived lack of enjoyment was a key factor in preventing participation.

The results, published in the Journal of Sports in Society, identified several barriers that stopped disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity including the cost of transport and activities, Ineffective communication and advertisement and
Preconceived images of sport as being competitive and judgemental

The researchers said that many of these barriers – although important – often masked a lack of enjoyment for participants.

The study also makes suggestions for future practice.

Dr Ben Ives, Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching at Manchester Metropolitan University and lead researcher, said: “While none of these barriers should be underplayed, especially those caused by anxieties, perhaps the most significant barrier that we found and the main challenge for future provision, is that many disabled people have not enjoyed, or perceive that they will not enjoy, partaking in sport and physical activity.

“From our perspective, this lack of enjoyment can cause disabled people to fixate on the difficulties of engaging, such as the cost and hassle of getting there.

“Indeed, while disabled people often raise these as barriers to sport participation, they do not seem to prevent them from engaging in other leisure activities that they enjoy.

“Attempting to remove these reported external barriers is fruitless unless sport and physical activity is first made more enjoyable.”

All of the disabled participants interviewed in the study were aware of the benefits of sport and physical activity for general health and wellbeing

However, 22 out of 24 disabled study participants did not meet the UK Government guidelines for physical activity – at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

A lower proportion of disabled people meet the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week compared to people with no impairment, according to Sport England.

Some participants put this down to being unable to access the internet to find out about activities and others commented that they do not like visiting places they have never been before and worried about being embarrassed.

One participant said: “I was thinking, even if you know full well what’s available out there, you start to think, ‘I have never been in this position before, I don’t know what I can and can’t do, will I be able to do that? […] I’ll always find a perfectly justified reason for not doing it.”

Another said: “You don’t know until you’re doing it. That’s the thing, if you’ve enjoyed something, yes, you’d want to carry it on, but if you’re not enjoying it so much then you’re not going to carry it on, are you?”

None of these internal or external barriers were raised by the disabled participants in relation to other leisure activities, such as going to the cinema or going out or a meal.

Researchers also spoke to industry professionals who help deliver physical activity and sport provision for disabled people.

In the future, the researchers suggest moving away from ‘sport’ in favour of ‘activity’ when promoting exercise to place emphasis on fun and enjoyment and creating a welcoming non-judgemental environment.

They also recommend using a multi-activity approach to allow disabled people to find out what they enjoy and to blend physical activities with non-physical activities, such as coffee drinking and lunches within the facilities to promote social interaction and wellbeing.

They also suggest that coaches should receive basic training in how to deliver sport and physical activity for disabled people.

Dr Ives added: “These are not to be read as the solution to issues of engagement among disabled people, but represent some of the lessons learned by listening to their stories.
“Successfully tackling the enjoyment issue will help to overcome those other barriers and therefore this should be the priority for those local government organisations and sport and physical activity providers who want to see a sustainable increase in disabled people’s participation.

“In future work we would encourage scholars to leave behind ‘what doesn’t work’, or studies that reiterate the barriers to participation and to instead prioritise those things that create enjoyment for disabled people and how these might be enhanced.”


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