Leisure and disability sports
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'It has opened up my world as a disabled person'- What is accessible sport?

Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 1,277 Pioneering

What is an accessible sport? 

There are a range of names for sports and activities that are accessible to people who might usually be excluded from physical activities, including accessible sports, parasports, and disability sports. From now on, I’ll be using ‘accessible sport’ as a general term to refer to any sport that’s inclusive and accessible to all.

These activities can be adaptations of sports designed for non-disabled people, or new sports that have been designed specifically with disabled people in mind.

Adapted sports

There are several ways sports can be adapted to accommodate a wider range of participants. These can include:
  • Allowing for the use of equipment, such as wheelchairs
  • Ensuring the venue is accessible
  • Modifying sporting equipment so that it is more accessible, including footballs that make a noise 
  • Offering alternative exercises so that everyone can take part at their own level
Here are some examples of adapted sports and activities: 
  • Walking football: an adapted version of football that bans running, the ball being kicked too high, and physical contact. It’s open to people of all genders, and I can attest to it being great fun! You can read more about walking football on the FIFA website
  • Wheelchair basketball: an adapted version of basketball that requires all participants to use a wheelchair. You can read more about wheelchair basketball on the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation website
  • Chair yoga: an adapted version of yoga that makes use of a standard chair, or wheelchair, to do the exercises. You can get some ideas for chair yoga poses on the Wheelpower website
I got in touch with two walking football clubs, York Vikings WFC and Bramley Walking Wanderers to find out more about the benefits of getting back into sport.
Paul, walking footballer at York Vikings WFC: 
"I thought my footy days were well and truly over but walking football has given me the incentive to get fitter and have fun playing again a sport I’ve always loved. Walking Football Coaches and Facilitators make new players feel welcome and you soon feel part of the group. Come on. Give it a go. You won’t be disappointed!“
Mike, coach at York Vikings WFC:
“Open to all, Walking football sessions are played in a friendly and empathetic spirit by groups of mixed ability players. Given that the inherent benefits of regular activity with like-minded people is well established and there are many Walking Football Clubs and Leisure Centre sessions right across the country every week, what are you waiting for?”
Fran, leader at Bramley Walking Wanderers:
“The coaching is brilliant, the players clearly love their weekly games and the friends they're making, and the on-pitch camaraderie and team-spirit follows the players off the pitch too. We have seen that sport is more than a physical activity, that most people are happier with a 'team' supporting them, and that adapting sports like football to cater for different levels of fitness enables people to continue doing what they love." 

New sports

There are also lots of new sports that have been created specifically for people with various kinds of impairments. Here are some examples:
  • Goalball: a three-a-side attack and defend ball game especially designed for people with a visual impairment. You can read about the rules, and how to get involved, on British Blind Sport’s website
  • RaceRunning: an innovative sport for those with impaired balance that makes use of a custom-built frame. You can find out more on the RaceRunning website
  • Boccia: originally designed for people with Cerebral Palsy, but now inclusive of anyone with an impairment that affects motor skills, boccia is a game of strategy and accuracy, similar to bowls. You can read more on the Boccia England website

Who can get involved in accessible sports?

People sometimes assume that accessible sports are only for older people, or that you must be a wheelchair user to take part. This isn’t the case at all. Many accessible sport clubs across the country are open to people of all different levels of skill, ability, and experience.

Everyone has their own story about how they got involved in disability sport, and where it has led them. We spoke to international RaceRunning athlete Ellie Simpson about her story:
"Growing up I was the least sporty person out there. Having Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy I couldn’t kick a ball, catch a ball, hold rackets, run, jump or throw. Sport was a total ‘no go’ area for me until I discovered Para sport following London 2012. Sport, specifically Para Athletics, completely changed my life and opened up brand new doors both on and off of the track. Aside from my success in sport, including breaking a world record and winning a Silver medal for GB, it has opened up my world as a disabled person physically, socially and academically. Physically my Cerebral Palsy has improved in certain areas as I’m stronger than I ever have been, for example negotiating steps has become easier for me. Socially I have made some great friends and I have become a part of something with a true sense of belonging. Academically I have taken new paths, leading me to University to study Sport Development."
You can follow what Ellie is up to on Twitter and Instagram. If you or someone you know is a teenager or young adult with cerebral palsy, I’d also highly recommend checking out the charity Ellie set up: CP Teens UK.

Why should I get involved?

Hopefully you can see from the comments above that taking part in sport has lots of benefits. These can include:
  • A higher level of general fitness
  • Improved mobility
  • Meeting new people
  • Better mental health
I reached out to our very own @jonathancollins_2222 to find out the impact the wonderful sport of wheelchair fencing has had on his life:
“Before I took up the sport of Wheelchair Fencing I was unfit, overweight and depressed, and now I am a lot fitter, happier and alert. Due to Wheelchair Fencing, I now have contacts from all around the world on social media through the sport and one contact asked me if I would like to write a book about Wheelchair Fencing. Writing a book was the last thing I had considered as I thought it was far beyond my ability, However I achieved it when Into The Frame was Published on Amazon in 2019. So the sport has both pushed me both physically, socially, and mentally. Wheelchair Fencing gives me everything to make my life complete, it is a social and exciting hobby TRY IT.”
You can keep up to date with all things wheelchair fencing on Jonathan’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts, and can buy his book here.

jonathan collins and his duelling partner playing wheelchair fencing in a sports hall

How can I get involved?

There are several ways you can get involved with accessible sports. The Activity Alliance have a list of some activity providers, which is a good start.

I asked Jennifer Basford from CP Sport about the work they do: 
“Cerebral Palsy Sport is the country’s leading national disability sports charity supporting people with cerebral palsy to reach their sporting potential and putting people with cerebral palsy and their families at the heart of everything we do. 

We provide disability sports, such as football, swimming, athletics, bowls, table cricket and through our adapted sports of RaceRunning and Frame Football. We also offer expert, specialist support to parents, support workers, teachers, coaches, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, sport providers and other professionals on how to adapt sports for people with cerebral palsy.”
You can find out more about CP Sport on their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Disability Sports Coach are running a 10 week programme of remote activities and fun social events, as listed below. Visit their website to sign-up.

Disability Sports Coach schedule visit the website for more details

If you’re interested in finding an activity in your area and you’re struggling to find something suitable, give us a shout and we’ll do our best to see if we can find anything!

Have you ever taken part in an accessible sport or activity? Why have, or haven’t, you? Is there a sport or physical activity that you’d like to take part in that you aren’t currently able to? What would encourage you to attend a club or group?
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