Report highlights barriers to children with disabilities taking part in sport


One in two parents in Britain with a child with disabilities aged 4 to 18 say their child doesn’t feel comfortable taking part in sports with other children, according to a report released by the children’s charity Variety.

The publication of the report was time to coincide with Britain hosting the World Para Athletic Championships (14-23 July 2017).

Sporting opportunities for children with disabilities: Is there a level playing field? analyses data from 137 parents of children with a disability and 97 staff at schools who collectively work with over 9,500 children with disabilities. Variety’s report found that children with disabilities have fewer opportunities to participate in sports — both in social and school environments. Just one in five (19 per cent) surveyed say their child plays sports with their friends. Fewer than one in 10 (9 per cent) say their child takes part in sport through to a specialist club.

Variety’s report identified two major barriers to children with disabilities taking part in sport. First and foremost was social stigma. Over a third (36 per cent) of parents reported that their child had experienced negative social attitudes to their health problem or disability in relation to sport.

The second major barrier was costs. Just over three-quarters (76 per cent) of special schools surveyed said facilities or equipment were a barrier to children participating in sports, whilst two-thirds of mainstream schools said transportation was a barrier.

The charity says these barriers are having a profound impact on children with disabilities in the UK. Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of schools and children’s groups surveyed said that a lack of participation in sport contributed to social isolation, lack of confidence and reduced life experiences among children with disabilities. Teachers have reported how this lack of participation in sports lessons has a knock-on effect to a child’s confidence and their wider educational attainment.

Sarah Nancollas, Chief Executive of Variety, said:

Whether it’s kicking a ball with your friends or participating in competitive sports for your school, all children deserve to have the opportunity to take part in sports. Sadly, this isn’t the case for many children with disabilities. Whilst we were aware that many of these children faced barriers accessing sports, I am disappointed at how extensive this issue is. Today, Variety has taken the first step in shining a spotlight on this issue and we’re calling for our peers and political stakeholders to consult with us so, together, we can level the playing field so all children with disabilities across the UK have a chance to participate in sports.

Dr Miriam Stoppard said:

I believe every child, including those with disabilities, have the right to optimise their physical capabilities and through that their overall wellbeing. In addition all children, even those with lower levels of fitness, have the right to join in recreational activities with other children and build teamwork and sociability. This isn’t always easy for children with disabilities who are more likely than others to be sedentary, making them more vulnerable to obesity and its attendant health hazards. The participation of children with disabilities in any physical activity can minimise the complications of immobility. Not only does it keep them physically and mentally fit it also fosters independence, coping abilities and working with other team members.


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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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