ONE in two (50%) 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 today by Variety, the Children’s Charity. The charity seeks to shine a spotlight on the scale of the issue and its impact on children’s lives as the country prepares to host the World Para Athletic Championships.
The charity’s report ‘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%) surveyed say their child plays sports with their friends. Fewer than one in 10 (9%) say their child takes part in sport through to a specialist clubs.
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%) 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. 4 out of 5 (76%) Special Educational Needs schools surveyed said facilities or equipment were a barrier to children participating in sports, whilst two-thirds (66%) of mainstream schools said transportation was a barrier.
These barriers are having a profound impact on children with disabilities in the UK. 72% 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.
Variety is releasing the report whilst London hosts the World Para Athletic Championships to highlight how children with disabilities across the UK are being left behind when it comes to participating in sports and call for change.
Sarah Nancollas, Chief Executive of Variety, the Children’s Charity says of the report: “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 of Variety’s report: “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.”
Variety was set up in the UK in 1949. Since then, the charity has raised over £200 million and supported over 800,000 children affected by ill health, disadvantage and disability. Variety has supported many disabled athletes during this time, of which 17 were chosen as part of Team GB for the 2012 London Paralympics and included gold medal winners and MBE honourees Ollie Hynd and Johnnie Peacock.