Changing the Reality of Disabled People through Challenging Perceptions

Activity Alliance recently released an eye-opening report on the attitudes of many non-disabled people towards inclusive activity for the disabled. Although the report did indicate some signs of a welcome improvement, there are still many barriers to changing the everyday experience of disability, due to ingrained perceptions.

The data presented on non-disabled people’s perceptions of disabled people were collected through an online survey in which more than 2,000 non-disabled adults participated. The focus was on inclusive activity, which involved the participation of both non-disabled and disabled people, and how the participants perceive and experience the concept.

The results showed great variations in the perceptions non-disabled people have of inclusive activity and why they may not want to participate in activities in such a setting.

The Potential to Change Perceptions through Sport

The results showed a great potential to change perceptions of disabled people through sporting activities. Almost three-quarters of the non-disabled people interviewed said they were open to the idea of taking part in a sport with disabled-people. They were also quick to recognise the various positive benefits that these inclusive activities could have on themselves personally. The benefits cited most often included meeting new groups of people (75%), learning more about the disabled (60%) and feeling more comfortable around disabled people.

Roughly a quarter of all respondents were quick to admit that disabled people were ‘equal to non-disabled people’ – it is believed that awareness of discrimination and its awful effects underlies this common response. Many respondents also recognized that those suffering from physical or mental conditions, learning disabilities, behavioural conditions and the like are among the groups experiencing the most discrimination and prejudice in the UK today.

Still, some of the respondents expressed concerns for the negative effects these activities could have on the disabled participants. The primary concerns from the respondents were that they would patronise the disabled participants (53%), the disabled players would get physically injured (47%) and that a non-disabled person may say something inappropriate (37%).

The failure to properly disseminate awareness of inclusive activities was also evident in the results. Almost two-thirds of all non-disabled people were totally unaware that the concept of “inclusive sports” even existed. 74% of disabled participants were aware that inclusive activities did involve everyone including the disabled.

Lack of Experience with Disabled People

Other factors that were made evident by the study showed that general lack of awareness as well as unfamiliarity and inexperience with disabled people contributed to the situation. Disability is a fairly common part of our society – one in five people is disabled. Nevertheless, only one in seven non-disabled people in the test could recollect ever participating in inclusive sports with disabled people. Only half actually knew a disabled person.

This report from the Activity Alliance adds to their already formidable collection of research into the reality of disability and the perceptions and barriers keeping them from getting more active.

Gap between Ambition and Reality

In a Lifestyle Report, a considerable discrepancy is noted between the ways that disabled people like to keep active and the opportunities available for them to be active. The report found that six out of ten (64%) disabled people would prefer to engage in a sport with disabled and non-disabled participants. However, only one out of every ten (51%) actually did.

This sentiment was reiterated in Motivate Me. This study showed that disabled people were more likely to get involved in activities if there was a chance for them to get involved in the things that really matter to them. These things include building friendships, increasing independence and maintaining good health for greater quality of life. Organisations like Gabriel’s Angels can help with this.

Activity Alliance’s Chief Executive, Barry Horne, had this to say: “If we want disabled people to get more active, we must first provide them with opportunities that suit the demand and also provide meaning and value. We understand that not all disabled people want to participate in these mixed activities; most would rather be active with their close friends and relatives.

“We have seen great accomplishments from some of our programmes like ‘Get Out and Get Active” that promote going beyond segregated sessions. This points to a greater need to create activities suited to their participants and choose the messages we broadcast more carefully. This will lead to greater opportunities for everyone and we all agree this is a good thing.”

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