Disabled Access Day: sport can create a level playing field throughout communities

As a passionate supporter of this weekend’s Disabled Access Day in the UK, I’m hoping it will enable greater numbers of people with disabilities to find and try new things in a friendly welcoming accessible environment.

What is Disabled Access Day?

On Saturday (16th March) Disabled Access Day will feature widespread events designed to break down barriers and to help disabled people widen their activities and options.  You can find all about this excellent initiative here.

This annual event was founded by Paul Ralph in 2015. He had recently discovered how wheelchair accessible the buses were in his home city of Edinburgh and felt inspired to connect people with a disability to the opportunities available to them in their community. Disabled Access Day has grown year on year since and is creating a fantastic impact already.

This clearly fits closely to the reasons I founded Kit Us Out, to change thinking in terms of “limitations”. I utterly loved the ‘Superhuman’s’ campaign by Channel 4, where there was a real focus on a persons ability and not their disability. There can be a real tendency is to focus on the obstacles that can limit the potential of people with disabilities rather than celebrating their potential and successes.

One of the best places to celebrate these successes is undoubtedly the sports arena. This is where they can find confidence, improved mental health and a level of acceptance that can empower them in many other aspects of daily life.

Sport builds and promotes ability

Sport offers personal motivation and betterment. This is not all about competing at an Olympic or Paralympic level, as even competing at a local level can be powerful in removing negative mental blocks.

This is equally true in developing countries, as some still hide disabilities. Having platforms to celebrate achievements can benefit the individuals but also lifts the wider community. This is why Kit Us Out supplies sports kit and equipment to enable para-athletes from developing nations and others to reach their potential and compete on a level playing field.

Some of the athletes our charity supports have faced the added obstacle of competing in communities ravaged by war. Out of a depressing situation, sport can help a great deal. It can unite people from diverse backgrounds, especially if it embraces a wide range of ability levels.

Progress is coming, but more needs to be done

According to Sports England’s most recent statistics (2017), although 65% of people engage in sporting activities of some kind the figure drops to 43% when a disability is involved. This needs to change.

Events such as the Paralympics help to highlight what is possible, and often inspire grassroots involvement. We can also see that the Invictus Games – founded by the Duke of Sussex – does a huge amount to support wounded veterans.

One of the most uplifting examples of the way sport can motivate people with disabilities can be found in Scot David Melrose. The former firefighter who broke his back recently competed for his country in the World Wheelchair Curling Championships. It is the start of his campaign to participate in the next Paralympics.

Major events and shining examples such as David show what is possible, but as a nation, we should be delivering diverse sporting opportunities year round, at every level.

This will not only empower participants but start to break down some of the preconceptions and misinformation that holds them back too. 

The victories will not only be measured in medals, but also in changing attitudes and wider acceptance.

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