Disability Sport Info

Grassroots sport: Foundational Principles

July 27, 2022 Dr Chris Brown Season 2 Episode 1
Grassroots sport: Foundational Principles
Disability Sport Info
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Disability Sport Info
Grassroots sport: Foundational Principles
Jul 27, 2022 Season 2 Episode 1
Dr Chris Brown

This is a bumper episode that covers the foundational principles of grassroots sport for disabled people. The following topics are covered:

  • Introduction to sport and physical activity;
  • Theories explaining sport participation;
  • Disability sport policy;
  • Sport participation and physical activity of disabled children and young people;
  • Enablers and barriers.

Each topic is available as a standalone episode on my Disability Sport Info podcast site: https://disabilitysportinfo.buzzsprout.com

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This is a bumper episode that covers the foundational principles of grassroots sport for disabled people. The following topics are covered:

  • Introduction to sport and physical activity;
  • Theories explaining sport participation;
  • Disability sport policy;
  • Sport participation and physical activity of disabled children and young people;
  • Enablers and barriers.

Each topic is available as a standalone episode on my Disability Sport Info podcast site: https://disabilitysportinfo.buzzsprout.com

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Transcript of Disability Sport Info episode, ‘Grassroots sport: Foundational Principles’



Speaker: CB: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK) 

Speaker: KMG: Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis (Participant – University of British Columbia, Canada)

Speaker: IB: Dr Ian Brittain (Participant – Coventry University, UK)

Speaker: MC: Dr Matej Christiaens (Participant – Coventry University, UK)

Speaker: BS: Professor Brett Smith (Participant – Durham University, UK)

Speaker: SD: Professor Simon Darcy (Participant – UTS, Australia)


Speaker: CB                        Time: 0:30

Hello Listener! Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show! Great to have you with me. This is a bumper episode that covers the foundational principles of grassroots sport for disabled people. We will hear from a range of experts from across the globe in our effort to understand the basis of grassroots sport. 

First, Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis provides an introduction to disabled people’s physical activity and sport participation. We consider the data, benefits, challenges and promotion of physical activity and sport participation. 

I then speak to Dr Ian Brittain to discuss how theory can help us understand the sport participation and physical activity of disabled people. 

My third discussion is with Dr Matej Christiaens, who discusses policy formulation and development for grassroots disability sport.

The penultimate discussion is with Professor Brett Smith. In our chat, we discuss the physical activity and sport participation of disabled children and young people.

Finally, Professor Simon Darcy takes us through some of the enablers and barriers to sports participation for disabled people.

All of the episodes featured in this special edition of the podcast are available as standalone episodes on the Disability Sport Info Buzzsprout podcast site. Check them out if you have a specific interest or are time constrained. 

If you’re still with me, thanks for staying. You’re in for a treat. By the end of the episode, you will be well-versed on the basics of grassroots sport for disabled people.

First up is Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis to introduce us to disabled people’s physical activity and sport participation. 

Welcome, Kathleen, thank you for joining me today. 

Based on the literature and your own understanding, to what extent do disabled people participate in physical activity and sport participation?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 2:11

Well, first of all, Chris, thank you for inviting me. It's a real pleasure to be here. Physical Activity participation for people living with disabilities is very difficult. There are many barriers and as a result, participation levels are very low. Unfortunately, we have lousy evidence, data with regards to the actual participation rate worldwide of people living with disabilities, but it's estimated that people living with disabilities are up to 70% less likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people living without disabilities. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 2:42

What about from a global perspective? How does that differ depending on where you are located in the world?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 2:48

Right. So, another great question, for which we have lousy data. I think perhaps, so the best data that we could use to maybe get at that question, is to look at rates of participation in Paralympic and other worldwide disability sport events. If we look at those rates of participation across the globe, we see that participation rates are greatest among high-income countries and very low to non-existent in the low and middle income countries. And while sport is quite different from physical activity participation in general, I think that those participation rates in those types of Games but Deaflympics, the Paralympics, Invictus and so on, I think that does give us an indication that as poor as participation rates may be in high-income countries, for which we've got just a little bit of data, they're probably that much lower and that much poorer in the low and middle-income countries for which we have virtually no data. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 3:45

You mentioned there's a paucity of data that exists. Why is that, then? What's the reasoning for this? 


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 3:52

This is something I'm quite passionate about. There are a few reasons why, for the general population, we have worldwide global data on physical activity participation, but specifically for people with disabilities, we don't. One of those reasons is that in many of the datasets when people have been recruited in the general population for these epidemiological datasets, people are excluded if they have some type of disability. The other reason is that, even if people are included with a disability, there are not standardised measures of disability in those datasets that would allow us to identify and categorise people with disabilities, and to segregate and separate the data for people with and without disabilities. So those are the two main reasons. It’s not for the lack of people with disabilities in the world. It's because the tools that we're using and the approaches that are being used to bring people into datasets, aren’t capturing or identifying the data from people with disabilities. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 4:54

Okay, thank you. So we've talked about global perspectives and our understanding of participation trends across the world. What about for other key variables, such as the nature of the impairment, age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality? Do we have data on this? Based on what you've said so far, I'm guessing probably not. But what are your thoughts about this? 


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 5:20

Great question. There's probably five datasets in the world that have data on physical activity for people with disabilities. So very minimal data. And the one trend that we do see is males tend to be more physically active than females, which is consistent with what we see in the general population, and that's probably reflective of so many socio-cultural factors that influence gender and physical activity participation. I have a very good dataset with Canadians living with spinal cord injury. And from that dataset, we also see trends that mirror general population physical activity levels in Canada, that the older people are, the less likely they are to be physically active. Based on impairment categories: that's also a mystery, unfortunately. That we don't know across the different types of impairments or disabilities, whether there are differences. And there probably are. Intuitively, there probably are some differences. I've seen in my physical activity dataset for people with spinal cord injury, that it actually depends not so much on level of functional impairment, but on the type of mobility device a person uses. So that might be something that would carry over to other types of mobility impairments other than spinal cord injury. But when it comes to the sensory impairments or cognitive or mental health impairments, we don't yet have any good data comparing across those groups. Or looking for demographic variables that might relate to physical activity within those groups.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 6:44

It’s frustrating we don't have this data available, or at least the granularity of data, to really understand this topic area.

In England, we do have the Active Lives data. It's comprehensive, but there are still some challenges with the data for disability. What we do know from the Active Lives survey is that individuals with a hearing impairment or visual impairment, participate in sport and physical activity less than those with a physical impairment. Is that something you think might play out when viewing physical activity and sport participation in a broader geographical context? 


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 7:19

So hard to say. And you're right, you have great data. So the UK, the Netherlands and the US are the big datasets for people with disabilities. Is it something I think carries it out? I really hate to say because, you know, even within impairment groups, no two impairments are the same. Right? If you're talking about people who have a hearing impairment, or who are Deaf, we've seen variability within those groups. I have a colleague who has some data with people with hearing impairments, but just to group people based on impairments and compare them with one another; I don't think that's a fair representation of those groups because of the different levels of impairment within those groups. So I really hope we get some data on this and it will help us identify the groups where particular efforts are needed to boost physical activity, but I wouldn't want to hedge a guess at this point. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 8:06

We also have individuals who have multiple impairments, of course, so they're not just located in one specific group. And that then makes it more tricky and adds more complexity in trying to compare across impairment groups, of course.


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 8:19

That’s it! And when you start thinking about intersectionality as well, that people from different ethnic groups, we talked about gender as moderating factor of physical activity. So when we pull in all the socioeconomic status, all the other factors that are related to activity, there are a whole host of factors that I think would make a difference.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 8:38

So we’ve discussed, from the available data we have, some trends and what the data is suggesting about physical activity and sport participation. What about benefits to participation in sport and physical activity? What does the literature suggest about the benefits that disabled people can derive from being physically active or participating in sport?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 8:58

Well, people with disabilities can certainly derive the exact same benefits from physical activity as people without. There’s reduced risk of chronic disease, there’s mental health benefits, we know even with people disabilities there might even be economic benefits insofar as reducing hospitalisations and the costs associated with that. If you look at the evidence, again, it's minimal. Everything that I say should be couched within the recognition that there's not a lot of data. So, having said that, there is some data even to suggest that for people with physical disabilities, for example, those who are physically active, might be more likely to be employed. It's hard to say which direction that relationship goes. But I know some people in the circles I work with, that for people with physical disabilities, getting people involved in a physical activity programme can strengthen, not just strengthen the body, but strengthen social self-confidence, self-confidence to go out into the world. And that, in turn, might have knock-on effects for employment. So I think right across the board, we see that physical activity has physical, psychological, social, and even economic benefits for people living with disabilities.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 10:06

And, as you said, it’s always context dependent. Obviously, we don’t have huge amounts of data that exists, so we’ve got to bear that in mind.

Okay, so we know the benefits. And there seems to be a lot. So what about challenges that might exist in providing sport or physical activity opportunities for disabled people? What kind of challenges might exist?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 10:37

Well, I think anyone, living with a disability or not, who has ever tried to start an exercise programme or take up a sport, knows how difficult it is, not just to get started, but also to stick with it. All the barriers that people without disabilities face, people living with disabilities have that many more barriers. My team and I went and did a review a few years ago, we also updated it for the Lancet paper, and identified over 200 barriers that people with disabilities might face in becoming physically active. Those barriers, you know, they're at all levels of society. Some of them rest within the individual, so there's the impairment itself, there might be a lack of confidence, there might be fear about being physically active. But then as you move from the individual to the next layer, to their social group, there may be people who have negative stereotypes towards people with disabilities that don't believe they should be in a gym exercising, there might be discouragement from family. It might be a lack of peer support at the next level. We know that there's just a lack of information available for how people can get started and lack of accessible facilities. I’ve heard so many discouraging stories about people with disabilities going to a fitness centre, you know, they're ready to go and they get to the fitness centre and they're turned away because the fitness centre employees say, ‘I don't know what to do with you’. It's infuriating! But that lack of information. And insulting! Let me also say that! At that level, there's problems and then even at sort of the broader societal layer, policy-making, there are policies that limit accessibility through the absence of sidewalks that are built in a community, or the lack of parking spots at the gym, or that require fees for community programmes to start a new sport. So you start layering these on and, for a person with disability in Canada and many other countries, if you have a disability, you’re more likely to live in poverty. So, layer on the economic challenges and this whole host of barriers; for many people they’re insurmountable. And it shouldn't be up to individuals to overcome these barriers! We should be doing more, as a society, to facilitate physical activity and to remove these barriers for people with disabilities.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 12:48

Yeah, it sounds like a complex web of barriers. Multiple constraints in different areas of an individual’s life, so it could be the individual themselves, society, organisational, economic, transport, etc.

Okay, that's not good, but we do know about the benefits. We know the effects that sport and physical activity can have. So what strategies are used to promote the importance of physical activity and sport participation, from your understanding of the literature?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 12:17

So, I love when people ask me this question! I teach health psychology and exercise psychology. And I always tell my students, you know, information is not enough. If all we had to do is give people information about physical activity, everyone would be physically active because, you know, there's lots of information, people should be doing it. But when it comes to physical activity and disability, there still isn't enough basic information and it frustrates me that I still need to say that because information isn't enough, but it's a key starting point, and we don't even have the information getting into the hands of people who need it. An important starting point for physical activity is physical activity guidelines. It’s something that I've written and done a lot of development and promotion of. When we have a sort of standardised guideline or recommendation for physical activity, that starts things in motion. That conveys to people, ‘okay, this amount should be safe for me. This is what I need to do’. It then conveys to gyms and facilities, ‘oh, okay. This is a healthy amount of activity that I should be encouraging people to do when they come in the front door of our gym’.

For people with disabilities, we have very limited evidence-based guidelines based on evidence from people with disabilities that can inform safe, meaningful, effective prescriptions for people with disabilities to go and enact in their communities and their gyms and their leisure centres. So I think that's the starting point. From there, the challenge becomes once you raise awareness of what's needed and give people some direction, I think then the next strategy is pointing people to where they can be active, how to start overcoming barriers, and then information guidance for society to start targeting all those external barriers that need to be alleviated to facilitate physical activity. 

I could talk about this for hours because there is so much work to do! We are starting to scratch the surface in terms of the types of communications that are needed for people with disabilities. I think it's important to impress, it’s something we talked about a few minutes ago, that no group of people with disabilities are the same. If we’re talking about people with disabilities, of course, it's not one homogeneous group of people: it’s people with different impairments, different lives. We talk about intersectionality, and to try and suggest that one set of guidelines, or one set of information is going to be effective for people of all disabilities: that's ludicrous, that's not the case. But that's also the reason why we need so much work is that targeted information is best. People need to know that the information they're receiving really is meant for them, that it wasn't created from the general population and, ‘oh, we're just going to slide this over you!’ People need to know it’s for them in order to have confidence in acting on it. And that's where we still have a long way to go.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 16:15

Excellent point! I mean, disability is more of a labelling mechanism, rather than representing people’s characteristics or traits, or anything like that. For example, you know, you referred to someone with a visual impairment, someone with a visual impairment, their life experiences are going to be very, very different from that of an individual with intellectual impairment, for example. Very different life experiences. Even if you’re from the same impairment group, if you're born with an impairment versus if you’ve acquired an impairment, again, your life experiences could be very different. So I think what you were saying really highlights the importance of co-design and co-creation, not just imposing viewpoints from the top down to the bottom. You know, actually ask the population group! It's very basic, but it is surprising how it happens so often, that there is this set of ideas or policies, narratives from the top which is then imposed to the bottom, without consulting with the population group that you’re actually trying to target.


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 17:15

It is so basic, Chris! It still staggers me to think that there are people who believe that you should not engage the people who are actually going to use guidelines or use information, that they shouldn't, or don’t need a say in the creation of those resources. On a human level it’s disrespectful. As a scientist, you’ll never have the impact in the groups you are working with, whether you're trying to impact physical activity or sport participation or health or what have you. You're never going to have that impact with that population, unless you’ve engaged that population from the get-go to really understand their values, needs and preferences. I use the term ‘buy-in’, you know, that sense that to have that group invested with you and what you're doing. From a scientist, you're never going to have the impact that you want, unless you have that that co creation process. I’d like to think that most scientists do want to make an impact with their research and that is one of most effective ways to do it, is to work with the people that you want to have impact with.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 18:19

Yeah, It shouldn't be a surprise or a highlight of the conversation. You know, so you say, ‘hey, engage with the population you’re trying to make a difference with. That shouldn’t be a highlight. 

Okay. So we understand the logic behind why you should speak to your population group and why that is a basic but really important philosophy in trying to provide authentic and rich experiences for your population group. So, why is isn’t it happening as often as it should be, then? Why are some promotional campaigns not involving co-creation or co-design? Is it because this message hasn’t registered with policy-makers or relevant organisations? Is it to do with ableism? What reasons might potentially explain why this is not happening as frequently as it should be?


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 19:04

Yeah. That's a complex question. I think there's a few things going on. Some of this is based on literature and some of this is just based on things that I've seen in terms of developing resources for physical activity in general, and for people with disabilities. So, one thing is that sort of the traditional route by which advertising has been effective, in general, advertising’s often effective by through shock or through surprise. The techniques that we use to advertise a product by making people aware of a new pair of running shoes or a new food is to like, oh, really get their attention and wow, and put it in their brain. But those techniques aren't the same thing that you want to use to promote physical activity. So telling people how lazy a particular group is or how we're all at risk for poor health, that doesn't excite us to be physically active: it depresses people and it doesn't tell them what they need to do next. So there's that. 

There's the traditional methods for advertising have sometimes been applied to promote physical activity to the general population as well as to people with disabilities and they just don't apply. For the people who are using evidence to try and create physical activity promotional strategies, believe it or not, I think in some cases there's fear of going and speaking to people with disabilities, that people are afraid they're going to say the wrong thing or they're not going to know how to engage. I think there's some social anxiety there. 

I think there's some arrogance. I've heard that from scientists as well that, honestly, I've heard scientists say, ‘well, what could they tell me that I don't already know!?’ There's still unfortunately a lot of that arrogance. And it also takes a lot of time, co creation and CO engagement. Sure, that's gonna take you a lot more time to go and meet with people, find out what they need, what they think, to work with them on developing something, to pilot test it, to than just going down to your lab and squirrelling away and coming up with something and sending it out to the world. But you know, what, that co creation, not only does it have the impact, but there's a satisfaction that comes from sitting down and talking with people and learning what they value. I have never learned so much in my career as when I started doing all of my research, through community engagement or co-creation. That's, you know, when my learning really skyrocketed. As for everything that we can learn in little lab experiments or in books, through reading, you can never match that learning with going out and speaking to people with lived experiences. Of trying to start a sport, participating in a sport, going to the gym. It does take more time, but the end product is just that much better.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 21:45

Excellent point! Yeah, I can’t really add anything else to that. It was summarised really well. 

Okay. So I think to conclude let’s look to the future. Where are there currently gaps in our understanding and in our knowledge in this particular area? So, based on your expertise, what should researchers, what should people working in this area, look to try and do to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and understanding?  


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 22:09

So, anybody who's doing any epidemiological research on physical activity, even if your interest is not in disability, you should be incorporating even a basic assessment, a basic item, to see if people identify as a person with a disability or with an impairment, in order to capture those data and to be able to separate it out of datasets to start giving us good data on physical activity levels of people with disabilities. We also need data on physical activity and how it can mitigate the risk for chronic disease in people with disabilities. Same thing. We have big datasets that look at that, but we don't know the impairment or disability status of people in those datasets. And given some of the intersectionality issues we've talked about, we need to know if the same amount of physical activity that's recommended to people without disabilities, if that same amount performed by people with disabilities, can still mitigate the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity. We don't know that yet. So I think those are two simple ways where we can expand the data or the knowledge is just by measuring disability in the datasets, let alone by incorporating inclusive design in research so that scientists strategically and deliberately recruit people with disabilities into their studies. And we can begin doing randomised control trials and other experiments with adequate samples of people with disabilities to look at the effects of exercise on psychological, physical health and other socio-economic outcomes.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 23:41

Great! Thank you, Kathleen. I think that's a nice way to end, looking to the future. And hopefully anyone listening to this will be able to take on that advice and fill in the knowledge gaps that we currently have. 

So, thank you, Kathleen, for speaking to me today and for enlightening our listeners with your expertise and insight in this particular area. It’s been really great chatting to you today and I’m really looking forward to catching up with you soon. Thank you ever so much.


Speaker: KMG                   Time: 24:05

Thank you very much. Chris.


*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time: 24:08

Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis there providing a thorough introduction to grassroots sport and physical activity. We will now focus on considering how theory can help us understand disabled people’s sport participation. To understand this in more detail, I spoke with Dr Ian Brittain. 

To begin our conversation, I'd like to focus on the main theories that have been used to help explain grassroots sport participation for disabled people.


Speaker: IB                         Time: 24:33

There's actually quite a lot of different theories, particularly over the last five years or so there seems to have been a growth in theories as people build on previous theories, but I'll just stick with the, I guess the three main ones that, you know, I've used over my time. The first one, I guess the one it all started with, is the medical model of disability, which is basically based in pathology or the human body. And it basically sort of states the issues faced by disabled people are due to their impairments, and therefore, they're a problem of the person with a disability. And an impairment is something that needs to be cured by some kind of medical intervention, is based on the idea of normative values whereby there's a perfect species typical model against which we're all measured. And the greater your difference from that species typical model, the more likely you are to be discriminated against. So that was sort of the original model, if you like. And as a kind of reaction to that, particularly from disability activists, mainly in the UK in the 1970s, they came up with what they called the social model of disability. And the aim of that was to highlight that the issues faced by disabled people were more often due to the way the built environment was constructed, and also non-disabled attitudes towards them. So, I guess what they're trying to say is, you can have an impairment and it not disable you. Disability is something that is projected on to you by the environment and non-disabled people's attitudes, and the way they treat you. Being academics, obviously, we start to pick holes in every new theory that comes out. And one of the critiques of the social model of disability was it neglected the embodied experience of the individual with an impairment. And so that led to what's called the psycho-social model of disability. And that's a combination of the medical model and the social model, highlighting that some impairments do lead to disabling conditions. So things like chronic pain, you know, that's not due to the built environment, it’s not due to people's attitudes, it is something that's embodied within the individual, and it can severely impact the way they interact with the rest of society. That’s sort of three main ones I’ve used over the last 20 years or so.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 27:07

So those theories help us to understand how disability has been understood and perceived. And this has changed over the years as you've just outlined. So what are the benefits, then, to using theory to help us understand sport participation?


Speaker: IB                         Time: 27:21

First and foremost, they provide a consistent analytical lens with which to interrogate data. They also help us recognise, understand, maybe explain, new situations that we haven't come across before. They help us identify gaps in current knowledge. And I guess also, they allow us for a better comparison of different researchers work. So, you know, I may work from, let's say, a social model perspective, somebody else uses a different theory. And, as long as we understand both theories, we can actually compare the findings from both. And maybe that leads to a new theory where we combine those two theories to give us an even better understanding of the situation.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 28:06

Okay, so it enables us to look at a situation or issue from multiple viewpoints to give us that framework from which we can then operate within.


Speaker: IB                         Time: 28:15

If you've got a framework, it allows you to be consistent across all of the data that you interrogate because you're applying the same lens rather than just sort of almost making it up as you go along.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 28:32

It also helps to give that explanation aspect as well, because you can start connecting the dots and finding patterns. Okay, so we understand how theory can be the basis for our understanding of social issues. In recent years, ableism has been a concept and theory that has been explored in increasing detail. And I know you've published a paper with colleagues on this topic in the last few years. But what is ableism? And how can it help us understand disabled people’s sport participation and physical activity?


Speaker: IB                         Time: 29:02

I think you have to be aware that ableism goes beyond disability, for a start. It's still very much based in this whole idea of normative values. But in a general sense, it's a way to explain discrimination based on a variety of identity characteristics. So, it therefore allows for sort of intersectional research. So I could, as an example, maybe using ableism, explain why a white, straight non-disabled male may suffer less discrimination within society than a black, female, lesbian, disabled individual. I mean, those closest to accepted norms, it actually allows them to hold power over those who diverge from those norms. So, you know, it's used to sort of exclude those that don't fit the norms but include those do closely associate with a certain set of accepted norms within a particular culture or society. And that group is usually the one that is most economically and politically powerful. And then they can therefore use that economic and political power to exclude those and keep hold of certain things that they hold dear to themselves and deny access to others. In sociological terms, it's called social closure and opportunity hoarding. So, you hoard the opportunity to access a certain aspect of society, for a particular group that holds power and use ableist perspectives to exclude others. So you pick on certain identity characteristics, and you discriminate against them in a multitude of ways that will prevent them then gaining access to the area that you want to keep for yourself. 

I mean, in terms of disability, ableism emphasises discrimination in favour of non-disabled people based upon their ability. But you also have a concept called, disablism, which emphasises discrimination against disabled people, usually based on an economic imperative. And again, it’s going back to normative values. It's about perceived ability of disabled people to contribute to economics. And, you know, they're usually perceived as slow and often taking time off work for sickness, etc. A lot of the research completely disproves this. But these ideas are so strongly ingrained and socialised into society that they still linger, even though the research says something completely different. 

Ableism, in terms of disability, it sort of encompasses the impact of the environment and social attitudes, as well as having this economic aspect to it. And it's very powerful in that it can actually be internalised and impact the way that people interact with the world around. You know, if you work for somebody really powerful, you know, somebody, maybe you admire, and they’re constantly telling you that you're useless. Over a period of time, if they just keep telling you you're useless, you start to believe it, and you internalise that belief. And then that starts to impact what you believe you can and cannot do in different situations. So it can actually prevent you from trying things that you're probably quite capable of doing, but because you've been told so often that you're not capable, internally, you've got this mechanism that holds you back from doing it. In terms of sport, I guess, if you think of it, non-disabled sport embodies these normative values of physical perfection, meaning that disability sport, by comparison, is devalued, because it diverges from this idea of sport as physical perfection: the fastest, strongest, the highest, etc.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 33:38

That was a very good introduction to what can be quite a complicated issue to understand. So ableism seems to have a strong hold and is quite deep-rooted, from what I'm understanding based on your conversation. So what is the difference between disablism and ableism? Is disablism more direct discrimination against disabled people, whereas ableism is it always intentional, can ableism be unintentional?


Speaker: IB                         Time: 34:06

I don't know about intention. Unintentional’s maybe not the right way of looking at it. Maybe, conscious/subconscious would be a better way of looking at it. In that you can be socialised into ableist perspectives, you know, that can make you racist, it can make you sexist, and can make the disablist, etc. But often, people don't even realise they're doing it. You know what I mean? They've sort of, it's not like. People will make comments and they won't realise the impact of the comment that they're making until you pointed out to them, and then they go, “I've never actually thought of it like that before”. I mean, yes, obviously, some of it, particularly with racism, etc, is very, very deliberate. In certain cases, disablism is very, very deliberate. But I would say it's not deliberate or a conscious act for everybody. It’s just something that we're sort of drip-fed as we grow up: it's all around us. We're socialised into believing, as we’re socialised into this whole concept of normative values, you know, as we are as we grow up in society by all those around us by adults, etc. And it just becomes part of our subconscious.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 35:39

So how do we change that then? It sounds like a really difficult issue to deal with.


Speaker: IB                         Time: 35:42

I mean, it's going to be going on long after I'm dead and buried! Now, all you can really do, I guess, is make people aware of it. increase understanding and education of the impact of people's actions and words, and put in strong policies and laws, maybe for the more extreme end of ableism. But those policies and laws need to be acted upon: they need to have teeth. Quite often what we see is what I call just government smokescreens. They'll put a piece of legislation in place, but then never actually enforce it. So it's like, “oh, look, aren't we doing a wonderful job, we've got all these policies”, but at the end of the day, they don't actually do anything about it.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 36:43

Okay. Yep. So we need firmer action. And I suppose we also need to speak with individuals who are experiencing these ablest practices,


Speaker: IB                         Time: 36:52

They’re your fundamental source of information. The number of policies that get enacted without actually, anybody that those policies are designed to help being spoken to, is just ridiculous. They should be your primary source of information when you're trying to design and develop those policies. As I say, the problem is there's policies are often for show: there’s no real intention to change anything.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 37:26

Okay. So we also need the will and the determination to actually make a difference and to change values. But, as you said, this has been going on for a very long time and isn't going to change overnight. So something we need to consistently work at and try and change. And it's a long term process.


Speaker: IB                         Time: 37:43

You know, people like yourselves, who lecture people coming through the education system, and the more they’re made aware of these issues. I'm not saying you’ll change everybody's mind, because some people, you'll never, ever change their attitudes. That's just an unfortunate fact of life. But, you know, if you can change a majority of people's attitudes, or at least increase their understanding and awareness of their actions, and the words that they use, then hopefully we can move towards a better situation. And I’m not a sort of utopian who thinks we’re ever going to reach Shangri La. But we do need to keep pushing that envelope.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 38:27

Yeah. Certainly. For those individuals who are listening and are from organisations that maybe work in this space about sports participation, how would they kind of do an honest review of their approaches and practices to understand if there are any ableist practices going on?


Speaker: IB                         Time: 38:46

First and foremost, talk to their users. They're the ones that are being impacted by those policies and practices. The problem is, though, often, the people you really want to talk to are the ones who come once, are treated badly and never come back again. And you’ll never know why. Because you never see them again. But, you know, you do have a core service group. And, again, the problems start to arise then, it's like, “oh, well, yes, we talked to them. And they said, we need to do this, or we need to do this, but we've only got this much money. And therefore it's impossible for us to enact the changes that they're requesting”. I’m not sure you're there for the right reasons if economics is all that matters to you. You’ll find ways. If you really want to change things, you'll find a way.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 39:49

It's a culture change, isn't it? It's not just about having one champion. Obviously, that’s important, to have a champion within the organisation, but we need everybody to be signed up to this agenda to actually try and provide sustainable long-lasting change.


Speaker: IB                         Time: 40:03

Everybody needs to be championing it and not just within their own organisation. So, when they go out into their social lives, etc., they still need to take those values with them. And, if appropriate and possible, pick people up on it if they meet somebody socially who is disablist towards somebody, say, “well, can we just have a chat about this, because I don't particularly like what you just said or what you just did”.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 40:36

Exactly. Yeah, if we can root it out, wherever we see it, that's obviously going to be really important. Okay, we've had an interesting discussion about ableism. And we also understand a bit more about how disability has been perceived and understood, and how it's changed over time. So some of the criticisms of theory, I suppose, from some practitioners or other theorists, is that it’s a little bit abstract. And how can we bridge the gap between that kind of abstract, higher level kind of thinking, and actually what happens on the ground on a day to day basis? So how can we bridge that gap, how we resolve that tension, to make sure that the theories that we've talked about can actually translate to meaningful impact and changes for sports participation?


Speaker: IB                         Time: 41:21

Well, as I’ve already pointed out, first and foremost, your source for your data needs to be the people that are being impacted by whatever aspect of ableism it is you're looking at. Then I think understanding the issues and the barriers to participation is the first step to making those policy and legal recommendations, particularly if the data is coming from the end-user. And so that will allow you to make these policy and recommendations to remove these barriers and increase awareness and understanding. It's almost like the old spiral staircase, you know, you slowly move up the spiral staircase. But obviously, if you get something wrong, you can soon end up going back down the spiral staircase. So it's often, you know, two steps forward, three steps back, or two steps forward, one step back, if you're lucky, at least you made one step advantage in the second scenario. 

Education and awareness and understanding of the situation is the key, and I think that theory-based research allows you to provide concrete examples from those end-users that can then be used to increase awareness and understanding. And with awareness and understanding comes self-awareness, knowledge, and, hopefully, the desire to change.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 42:59

Nicely put. And I think a fine way to end our discussion. So it's been really interesting and educational, learning more about theories of disability, models that have been used to help us understand and explain disability, but also going into quite a detailed conversation about ableism: what it is, how it can have an influence in society at large but also when applying it to sport participation. 

Always great catching up with you Ian, always lovely to chat. So thank you again for being on the show. And I hope listeners have been able to learn a bit more about how we use theory to help understand disability, but also sport participation for disabled people. 

So thank you ever so much, Ian. Really great chatting to you and I look forward to catching up with you soon. 


Speaker: IB                         Time: 43:45

Take care.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 43:46

Doctor Ian Britain, there, talking about theories of sport participation and how theory can be used to help us understand disability, but also to understand why and how disabled people might access sport and physical activity.

*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time: 44:00

We now turn to policy and how this has shaped the development and structure of sport for disabled people. Dr Matej Christiaens is our guide for this discussion. 

I caught up with Matej to discuss what do we mean by policy? How has it been shaped over the years and what is the current landscape of disability grassroots participation from a policy perspective? 

Welcome, Matej. So we're gonna be focusing on policy, broadly looking at policy, we'll probably be focusing mainly on UK policy but if we can also think about globally, as well, where that kind of applies. So, to kick us off,  how have disabled people, historically, been included in grassroots sport policy formulations?


Speaker: MC                      Time: 44:39

I think it's really good to start with, like, an historical view of policy because it's always really important to know where we’re coming from where we try to understand where we are right now, right. To set the scene a little bit, and to create a better understanding for the audience as well, I actually want to start in the 1600s, when one of the first policies around disability came into existence, and this was called the Poor Relief Act. And it's one of the first times that we actually started to think about disability in society and how the State will deal with them, which wasn't in a very positive way because it basically legalised the discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities by putting them within institutions, hopefully funded by the families and, only if not possible, the State tried to intervene a little bit. 

But 1600s was about 400 years ago. The next piece of legislation around disabilities is like 370 years ago, and that's when things started to change around the 70s. So that's 370 years of people with disabilities were viewed as being a personal tragedy. “We deserve pity, we need care, we need to be cared for”. 370 years is a very long time. So that's why I wanted to start there, because it's still very much shaping how people with disabilities are viewed and can act in today's society. 

That brings us to the 1970s, which is perhaps a little bit closer to the audience perceptions of where we are, and the 70s were very active period of time. A lot of disability movements came into existence, and they were very powerful in shaping some legislation as well. In the 70s, we have the first piece of legislation that's actually giving some rights to people with disabilities. Previously, it was kind of legalised to discriminate, to exclude them from society. Now, we're finally seeing some movements where people with disabilities are getting some human rights, some basic rights, and they had to fight quite hard for that. And this resulted in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person Act, which some argue is the first piece of legislation in the world, because we didn't want to focus only on the UK, that give some rights to people with disabilities. 

Of course, we try to link this a little bit to the sport as well. So what does this mean for disabled people and sport? Because they were getting some rights, it also meant there was broader attention being paid to people with disabilities. In particular, one institution, the Council of Europe, which is very different from the European Union, has nothing to do with it. The Council of Europe is a human rights organisation, where as far as I know, the UK is still part of. They took a particular interest in sports. So at the same time when all these disability movements and disability was attracting attention, the Council of Europe was also very interested in sport. And that resulted in what we know as the ‘Sport for All’ campaigns. So they wanted to bring sport to the masses, they wanted to create an environment where everybody could participate. 

Very busy time, this 1970s. So the United Nations took a particular interest in disability as well. So the United Nations, they created the Declaration of the Rights of the Disabled Persons. So that was kind of laying out the foundations of human rights for people with disabilities. They were already doing civil rights, human rights in general, but now they were taking an interest in disability in particular and they created this Declaration of the Rights of Disabled People

A little bit forward in the 1980s, in 1981, the United Nations actually attributed a year to people with disabilities, so they rebranded 1981 as the year for people with disabilities. So when we think back about these ‘Sport for All’ campaigns, they wanted to join in, so they created a special ‘Sport for All’ campaign that was aimed at people with disabilities. So it is 1981 was the first time that we really see some policy directed to people with disabilities. And this all cultivated from the 70s, where all of these disability movements became very active and human rights organisations were starting to pay attention to this issue as well. 

This year [1981], with the ‘Sport for All’ campaigns directed at people with disabilities, was really good. A lot of organisations were founded to support people with disabilities. But going back to what we're talking about, we were still very premature. People with disabilities were still excluded from broader society. It was still legal to discriminate against them. So the sport clubs that already exist, the non-disabled sports clubs, they were still turning them away. So we're kind of creating here a situation where people with disabilities are participating in sport in a segregated nature. So we have specialised clubs that deal with sport for the disabled, and we have the other clubs that are for the non-disabled people. 

We have to actually wait until 1995 before it becomes illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, which is not that long ago. So this was the Disability Discrimination Act, which we now know as the Equality act. It's a really important piece of legislation that gives a lot of rights to people with disabilities to participate in society, to participate in entertainment and sport, recreation, all those activities. So it's really important and a really big step towards the sport participation for people with disabilities as well. 

The downside of this very active period is that we have so many sport clubs being created, that the government is rethinking what they're doing. The Sport landscape is becoming so complex with so many different sports, different structures, non-disabled sport, sport for the disabled. A lot of clubs coming into existence, and they're kind of worried about how they're going to fund this all. It's too complex. From that perspective, they started thinking, ‘okay, how can we simplify the sport landscape? How can we save money on sport?’ So they decided that they were going to integrate disability within the existing non-disabled support structures. And this is the start of a concept that we call mainstreaming or integration, where we want to make the non-disabled structures responsible for disabled sport participation. So, we're talking about around 395 years of exclusion, segregation, to then come to this policy of inclusion within the existing sport structures, and where we want to welcome them. So I guess it's not that surprising that it's still very difficult in practice to actually carry that out. So it's only about like the last 50 years or so that people disabilities are really being considered in sports policy, are getting more rights to participate and, in particular, to participate within the existing non-disabled structures. 


Speaker: CB                        Time:  52:45

Fascinating, potentially eye-opening account of how much exclusion and discrimination, like you said, have has been going on. I mean, when you break it down, 390 years it's, well, obviously an incredible amount of time and it’s a very strong period of history to try and overturn in a relatively short space of time. Just for clarity, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act was a UK focused one?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  53:11 

That was a UK focused one but we see similar movements and for example in the US so most of these trends, while they might change slightly, in the exact years, the big trends we can observe within the Western society. 


Speaker: CB                        Time:  53:28 

Okay, that's interesting. So it's Western society that we're kind of focusing on. What is the difference? I mean, globally, is there even more discrimination in certain parts of the world compared to traditionally, ‘Western nations’?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  53:41 

It's quite tricky because when we speak about disability, it's a very cultural phenomena. It's, it's something that's very fluid over time as well. So different societies have a different understanding of what a disability is and who people with disabilities are. And that's why I say the Western society because that's where I'm more comfortable with as well. Also, because we kind of view disability in a very similar way, while in other societies, they might few disabilities very differently. When look at, for example, the elderly, different societies treat the elderly very differently. Some societies have a lot more respect for the elderly, while in Western societies we almost start seeing them as a burden. And elderly and disability goes very, very much hand in hand. The older you get, the more likely you have a disability, etc. So that's why I said Western society because it's so culturally shaped. It's a very fluid concept that's constantly changing. So it's quite difficult to speak about a Global Disability.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  54:53 

Yeah, thank you again, for that distinction. I think that's really important, the role of culture and society in terms of how disability is positioned and experienced. 

Lots of content I want to pick at really from what you've said, and obviously you have covered 400 years of history there. Obviously, we don’t have time to go through 400 year, but I’m just curious, what, in your opinion, was kind of the spark, and if I can use that word ‘spark’, because is it a spark if it’s taken over 370 years to ignite? I don’t know. In the 1970s you were saying that’s when we started to get some movement and then you said that was crystallised in 1981 with the UN Act. Why 1970s? Why did it start to begin a movement then?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  55:37 

I'm not entirely sure to be honest. I don't know what started it: I’d have to look that up.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  55:44

Is it anything to do with the social model of disability, do we think? In terms of how more politicising…


Speaker: MC                      Time:  55:50 

In the 70s, we have all of these disability groups that are very vocal about the rights for people with disabilities and loads of protests. One disability group, in particular, was very influential. Before that time, disability was viewed as a medical issue. If somebody’s missing an arm it's a medical issue. While these disability groups they were arguing that it's not really a medical issue of missing a leg: it doesn't make them disabled. It’s society that's organised in a way that they can't function without their leg. And they were arguing that society should do more to facilitate their lives so that they could live a full life without having a leg. And we see later on this cultivated in the removal of physical barriers, ramps, wheelchair access, disability toilets, and all those kinds of things. But, like you said, this is the period of time where we move away from this medical model, influenced by the disability advocate groups, towards a social model understanding of disability, where we start viewing disability as a social issue, where society is structured in a way like we've been talking about 350, almost 400 years, to exclude them from society. So now they're fighting to be included and argue that it's society that has to change so that they can actually function within it.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  57:25 

Obviously, disability is a catch-all term, and obviously belies the complexity and individuality of impairment and the lived experience. So when the policies were starting to get formulated a little bit more seriously, was it equal amongst different impairment categories and impairment groups? Or was there kind of a more specific approach to sport participation for particular groups? Do we have that information?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  57:52 

Legislation is usually focused on how is the State going to give money to people with disabilities? And that's why the State groups people into different categories, so qualification of disability plays a very big role in that, because the State is mainly worried about how much money am I going to give to different kinds of people? So they don't necessarily get that much about the different categories in the same way as we would consider it in sport. For them, it’s mainly a consideration about who are they going to give money to? So, how impaired are they? How much can they still contribute to society? That's more the way that governments usually think. 

It’s a very interesting concept that I think takes us mainly a bit away from policy, because people with disabilities themselves, they view disability in a hierarchy, as well. So discrimination doesn't only come from outsiders, the non-disabled, but also from insiders. Some groups of impairments feel worse off than some others. So they view within all disabilities that there's some kind of hierarchy where usually the wheelchair users quite on top because they're very visible, can quite easily integrate into society these days. While some other disabilities, particularly some mental disabilities, are viewed kind of at the bottom where it's not as visible but also requires a lot more support in a way. So it is a very tricky kind of situation. 

And then to bring it back to sport, we also see that there's there has been differences in how different impairment groups have participated in sport. People with hearing impairments, we don't always consider them to be disabled themselves, because they just consider themselves to be part of a language minority, because they speak in sign language. They've been very early with sport participation, while other groups kind of evolved from the paraplegic and the rehabilitation side of sport.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:00:16 

Yeah. It's a bit beyond the scope of this discussion, because we only have a certain amount of time, but I think maybe there's also a distinction between design of policy and the implementation of the policy when it comes to access for sport participation.


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:00:28

Policy today, it kind of starts where we ended our last discussion, where we are in an environment where the non-disabled sports organisations are made responsible for disability sport as well. We can argue how successful that policy is. To receive government funding is now mandatory that you have a strategy or a plan in place to deliver sport to people with disabilities, as well. And for those who don't know, sport policy in England, is created by Sport England, and we have a similar organisation in Scotland, in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well. So they're responsible for setting out the strategy and policy within their regional area in terms of grassroots sports, what we're talking about here. So they've been tasked by the government to basically spend their money on projects and sports to improve the situation. 

When we look at current policy, it's really focused on still the ‘Sport for All’ idea, and particularly on what they call underperforming groups. So all of the groups of people, usually, this has historical roots, who don't participate in sport that much. Usually includes people with disability but also for very long time women, people from minor ethnic backgrounds, elderly, and some other groups. So the policy that Sport England creates and what's active at the moment, it's really focused on diversity. How can we increase diversity? How can we get all of these groups participating more in sport? The big problem with this policy is that it's so broad and vague. And I think that's kind of been the problem for the last 10 years or so. They always talk about diversity, and we need to increase diversity, and that we need inclusion, inclusion in the broader sense of all of these diverse groups. When we look at one group in particular, in this case people have disabilities, there's actually not a lot of policy around this. So the only really big movement we see in policy is that they made it mandatory for these governing bodies of sport to create a plan for disability sports to get government funding. Again, the impact of this is reduced because when England is moving away from funding these big organisations towards more project based funding. At the moment, there's not really that much data yet the about what the impact that is, particularly for people with disabilities. 


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:03:16 

Okay, very interesting. It's non-disabled sport organisations that are kind of primarily now responsible for sport participation at the grassroots. And that’s this concept of mainstreaming, and you also mentioned the concept of inclusion. For our listeners, are you able to just kind of define what that means in terms of the concepts of mainstreaming and inclusion, and what opportunities and challenges exist with those approaches?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:03:38 

Quite tricky to define all of these terms because disability is a cultural-based phenomena, and language around it is constantly evolving. 

So, the four terms I’d like to touch on are exclusion, what we talked about in the beginning of our conversation. About 390 years of exclusion where people with disabilities are not allowed to take part in society. In terms of sport, that means that they would have been turned away, they wouldn’t have been welcomed.  

Then we have segregation. This is where we see the development of all of those disability sport clubs, where they get some rights, there allowed to participate in sport, but it has to be in their specialised sport clubs. So that's what we call segregation. 

And then we have the concept of integration or mainstreaming. I believe these are quite synonyms to each other. Integration or mainstreaming, it kind of comes from the educational sector: it happened there first. But it's where we tried to place people with disabilities in a non-disabled environment. Issues with that is that we need quite a lot of support to include people with disabilities in a non-disabled environment. And those support structures are often non-existent or insufficient. 

And then we have inclusion. Inclusion is kind of this Utopian ideology, where people with disabilities can participate in the same activity in a non-disabled club, and that their participation is equal. Challenges with that are particularly found in team sports. It's really difficult to include a single person with a disability within a team sport because it can create a disadvantage for their team, while it’s a lot easier to do so in individual sports where we're more focused on how they can participate within their club. And because it's an individual, that should be able to take place quite easily. So inclusion is kind of what we've, what the government is always holding forward as this ideal that we need to achieve. From my own research, I've noticed that inclusion shouldn't necessarily be the endpoint, or not in the way that it's about placement of people with disabilities in a non-disabled setting. It should be about inclusion within sport in general, which also accepts disability sports clubs as an equal part of the sport system. It’s proven very important to people with disabilities, particularly people who acquired a new disability. They feel more confident participating in a setting that shares values with them where they feel at ease compared to being placed immediately in a non-disabled setting where their disability is being emphasised and put under a magnifying glass. 

That's the difference between these terms that we use and some of the challenges as well. 


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:06:43

If you were trying to summarise it in a succinct way, how would you describe the current policy environment for grassroots sport participation for disabled people?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:06:52

I think current policy, like I said, is a little bit too vague and too broad. It gives a lot of space to individuals to interpret what inclusion is; that proves to be very troublesome. Because a personal interpretation of inclusion isn't always fit with what people with disabilities want or how they see inclusion. It very often leads to what we call ableist practices. This is where sports clubs take a very light approach to inclusion, usually focused on physical barriers. So a lot of sports clubs, from my own research, said that they were inclusive, and that was purely based on that they had a ramp for a wheelchair user to come in, that they had a disability toilet, accessible toilet, and that that they had some parking spaces. And they found themselves to be an inclusive club based on some of those physical characteristics. While inclusion goes much further than that; it's about can they participate equally, in your sport? Do they have the support that they need? Do coaches know what they're doing when there's somebody with a disability in the club? And from policy having that very broad focus on diversity in general, without actually speaking about what is inclusion? What is our end goal with inclusion? How are we going to achieve inclusion? Particularly in terms of people with disabilities, it gives so much space for all of this kind of malpractice to happen. And it's, it's very much an educational thing. It's not that they deliberately want to exclude people with disabilities, it's that they hadn't been taught differently or told differently. And, sadly, you still hear quite often, sport clubs saying, ‘well, we're not a disability sports club’, or ‘if they can achieve the same standards, then they're welcome’. And current policy kind of facilitates that in a way because it's so vague and so broad.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:08:59

Interesting. Thank you for that was really enlightening to kind of focus on that gap, I suppose, in policy definition and how that has created different interpretations. So finally, just looking forward, what policy changes need to happen in the future to give the best possible environment for increasing participation in sport amongst disabled people?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:09:23

So building on what I just said, I think sport policy needs to be much bolder and clearer about what they mean when they talk about diversity and inclusion. They need to specify for the various groups that they consider under those terms, and create a strategy in which they explain what they mean with diversity inclusion, how they envision that that would work in practice, because that's often missing, and what they hope the end result will be? Because if they don't know what the end result will be, or what end result they're striving towards, then it becomes very difficult to do any of the other bits of policy. So I think that is a really important one for me, where they work together with Disability Support Organisations, and disability movements, and create a more long-term vision about how they see the sport landscape. And then we can make steps to actually try to achieve that. 

The other thing is that I really believe that we should start treating disability sport clubs as equal, that we consider them as an integral part of the sport participation for people with disabilities. 

And that inclusion, as in putting people with disabilities in a non-disabled environment, is perhaps not the best strategy. We need to see how can we approach sports participation from a holistic perspective, and it's about getting people disabilities engaged in sport participation. And that doesn't necessarily have to be in a non-disabled club. I think that's quite important as well. 

Maybe the last thing is perhaps not that much policy based, but I really believe that non-disabled support clubs have to change the way that they look at disability. Again, sports clubs have traditionally been excluding people with disabilities from the club because they belonged in those specialised clubs. So there's this very long history of that happening, and we can still kind of see that today. It's not necessarily exclusion, but as you call it, nativity or being naive, so they don't really see people disabilities as the target audience. They don't have any strategy in place to include them or to market towards them. So sports clubs could do a lot more to show that they're open to the idea of accepting people with disabilities. That is about the language they use on their websites, pictures they use, but also actively working with disability organisations in their areas, and things like that. So sports clubs themselves could do much more to show that they are open to inclusion, that they are open to people with disabilities.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:12:26

Excellent. Yeah, some really interesting ideas. I was particularly taken by the co-design principle. You know that actually it's not about having it imposed upon disabled people. You actually need to get them involved because, ultimately, that's going to probably breed the best possible opportunities if you're actually hear from the grassroots in terms of actually understanding the main areas. Also, if you want to try and get a discretionary activity going, and sport is a discretionary activity, choice. Yeah. So don't just be forced to go into a specific type of setting: have that choice. And then yeah, finally, the culture I suppose, and the approach of key organisations such as sports clubs.

I think that's it really. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we close for today?


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:13:07

Yes, because we've painted quite a negative image, perhaps, about sports. So, I must say, from my personal research as well, there are some very positive movements in the sport landscape as well. They're often initiated by a single advocate within a sport club, but it is very promising. Some of the ideas is that we should move away from the distinction between disability and non-disability, and kind of create an identity around the sport that they participate in. If you look at athletics, for example, you have a lot of separate groups. You have the throwers, you have the sprinters, you have the jumpers. And I found some sports clubs really tried to use that as the point of similarity where they create an identity around the throwers and where they'll engage with each other and tried to move away from that separation of disability and non-disability. So that was really interesting. 

And then, another very interesting movement, is where we actually see the creation of a hybrid club, where a disability sport club merges with a non-disability sport club. And that way they break down barriers where it becomes a lot easier to move between them, but also the cooperation and those kinds of clubs are really interesting. So there are definitely some positive movements out there that hopefully we'll see more of in the future. 

There's some individual people with disabilities as well, that I had the chance to talk to and they’ve had some amazing experiences where they went into a club and were accepted with open arms and when a club tried to accommodate as best as possible. And we're talking about somebody in a wheelchair or crutches who wanted to play squash, who wanted to go mountain climbing in a wheelchair, a person with a hearing impairment who got very engaged with athletics and is one of the biggest stars at her club. So there's some very interesting and positive personal stories and some positive movements within the sector as well.


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:15:29

And that’s very important, too. It’s obviously quite easy to be negative or critical, and I was perhaps guilty of that myself, but there is good practice happening, and there are positive updates happening. But, as we spoke about at the beginning when we began the discussion, there’s been three-hundred odd years, 370, even 90 years, of discrimination. And so it’s not going to happen overnight, is it?  


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:15:52

No. It’s a long journey and hopefully we can take small steps towards a more inclusive society and sports landscape. 


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:16:02

Yeah. And that’s a perfect way to end. We could have talked for a lot longer I think, but, you know, our listeners have a finite amount of patience, I’m sure. 

It’s really been fascinating to learn about how policy has developed. We even went all the way back to the 1600s to Today, so thank you ever so much. Appreciate it. It’ll be great to catch-up soon. 


Speaker: MC                      Time:  1:16:22

Yeah. Thank you for inviting me. It was very interesting to have this chat and hopefully your audience will find it interesting as well. 

Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:16:28

No. You’re welcome! Thank you. 


*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time:  1:16:29

We now turn our focus to the sport participation and physical activity of disabled children and young people. I caught up with Professor Brett Smith to learn more. 

In our chat, we focus on the latest Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines for disabled children and young people. Brett was a leading researcher involved in creating the guidelines, providing an insider's perspective of the process and evidence that informed the making of the guidelines. I caught up with Brett to discuss this area in more depth. 

So I think to kick off the discussion so our listeners can get a broad understanding, to what extent do disabled children and young people participate in sport and physical activity? 


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:17:04

I think that’s a really interesting question because it depends upon at least two factors. One is which data are we going to use to answer that question? The second one is let's look at the quality of that data to then be able to answer it with some tentative conclusions. If we start with the ‘which’ question in terms of the extent, when you look at the data, what's really interesting is you get some data from certain organisations and in different countries saying actually, to what extent, in terms of physical activity, and when we have a comparative approach between disabled children and non-disabled children, we see very similar patterns. Not huge levels of physical activity, of course, because we know there are issues there, but we see similar patterns. On the other hand, when you look at other data, you see the disparities there. You see, for example, impairment groups in particular, with much, much less types of physical activity engagement. So it really does depend upon which data you utilise to be able to answer that question. So if anybody poses the question, ‘are disabled children less active than non-disabled children?’ It's actually a very challenging question to be able to say yes or no on that front. And part of that revolves around the second issue in terms of the quality of data. 

When we look at the quality of data, most of it is self-reported. Now, we know that's not as accurate as, for example, accelerometer data or Fitbit data on that front, and then of course, when we throw in other issues in relation to disability such as complex disabilities, intellectual and learning, then that throws up a whole set of conundrums about how well the self-reported data can be utilised, because, of course, we know we've got memory issues and, particularly with children, we've got assumptions about what counts as physical activity, and what doesn't count as physical activity if parents are filling them in, and so on. So when we look at the data, the surveillance data in particular, it's not great, is the long and short of it on that front. 

All that said, if somebody put a gun to my head, and said, ‘are disabled children less active than non-disabled children?’ In my experiences, the answer would be yes. But do we have the evidence base to say that the answer’s equivocal, at best on that front? And it's certainly something that we really do need to progress upon quite considerably. So lots of different reasons, lots of different reasons. But when we look at COVID, and the health disparities that have arisen as a result of that, well enlarge, should we say, because they’ve always been there. That's what worries me. If we can capture that data that, for example, if children are less active than non-disabled children, then we can make that even more of a priority. But that data alone, and this is what frustrates me about researchers, when we just collect that data. That's not good enough. In many respects that should just be the starting point of an article. One line. And then we need to move on to the question, how can we make things better? How can we make things better? There's too much emphasis just simply, simply on that data collection, but we do need to improve it. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:20:18

Interesting. Yeah, that's a really good distinction that you made about the availability of data and then the quality of data. I just wondering if you know, because I’m not sure if the quality of data exists here, but what's the picture globally? I think, traditionally, a lot of research has probably been Western in focus. I think that's probably a fair comment to make. So how much knowledge do we have when we're looking at, globally, participation in sport and physical activity? 


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:20:41

Well, that's again, a challenging question. It's challenging because when we look at, for example, what's revolving around the anti-colonialism of science. Now, I can't read, for example, different languages, say, different forms of South African languages. When we look at, even Western countries like Spain, I can't read the data that's been published in their languages. So when, as a researcher, when we make these broad claims about global work, we're often just relying upon English language, only. And of course, we can no longer do that. We must do better to be able to make these claims. We must work better. We must engage better with other languages so that we can answer these types of questions. But, when we do look at the English speaking language, we find, again, similar patterns. Actually, very little data going on in these types of countries, and what we do find in that data in and of itself, of course, we end up with some similar evidence to, for example, the UK. We find some evidence that it's similar patterns to non-disabled children. And, equally, we find evidence saying that non-disabled children have lower levels of physical activity than disabled children, of course.

Of course, but when we move into those different countries, that's when the health disparities start amplifying even greater, even greater. So when I'm working, for example, with my South African colleagues, when you go out into the communities there, the visibility of the health disparities are shocking, absolutely shocking there.

So, we really, we really do need to work much better on the ground, in terms of these communities and enabling all sides to do much better, particularly in terms of the anti-colonialism as well, that's a necessity. And of course, don't forget, Listeners, there’s a difference between anti-colonialism and decolonisation, which too many universities talk about decolonisation, but that's just about land. Hence, why many universities do get it wrong. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:22:44

Again, thank you for that distinction. And I think that's kind of really highlighting that need to have that collaboration, and that kind of common idea of what is quality data and how best to collect the data as well. 

So, if we could just move to more of a UK focus for the time being, I know you've been involved in the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for physical activity for disabled children and young people, so would you be able let our listeners know what the current guidelines are, and how they were developed and informed? What evidence was used? 


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:23:11

Yeah. I think the evidence is an important question which I'll come back to. But I think, firstly, it's important to note that these are the first UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for disabled children and disabled young people. There's been a gap in that evidence base up until this month [February], in fact, where they’ve just been launched on the 16th of February. Alongside those guidelines, we have an infographic to communicate them, that was co-produced, and an animation as well, that was co-produced. I think it's also important to stress that these are public health guidelines, people often criticise public health guidelines based upon clinical ideas, when, of course, the two are very different and they conflate the two. So it first needs to be stressed that these are public health guidelines, not clinical guidelines, on that front, and the same with the adult guidelines as well. 

Well, last year, the Chief Medical Officers tasked myself and the team at Durham University, and I want to highlight the role of Ben Rigby here who was a fundamental part of this team, who led the review of evidence, and also my colleague from Bristol, Professor Charlie Foster, on that front. We were tasked with answering three questions as part of the review: 

1.       Is physical activity safe? 

2.       What are the health benefits? And 

3.       When we look at the FITT principles as well, for example, you know, the intensity and the time, how much physical activity is needed for good health. 

We were tasked with those three questions. We did a review of the evidence and we found, I think, 476 studies that were included at the end, having gone through the review synthesis process. So we reviewed this evidence and what did we really find from this? Well, firstly, there was a reasonably large quantity of good quality evidence, when of course we think quality evidence means a randomised control trial on that front and, of course, we can debate whether that is high quality evidence for disability and when we look at other parts of how we want to do research, but nonetheless, that was the high quality evidence that we found. Well, what did this tell us in terms of those three questions? One, we found no evidence that physical activity is unsafe or harmful when done appropriately, of course, when done appropriately on that front. Secondly, we found some health benefits which I could come back to if that's of interest. But I think what we found fascinating was the results of the looking at the FITT, in terms of the frequency and the intensity and the time and the types of physical activity. When we, of course, reviewed the evidence, we'd had the World Health Organisation guidelines for disabled children and disabled young people in front of me, we dissected those. Those guidelines recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day for good health. When we looked at the evidence, we found no evidence for 60 minutes whatsoever. Now what we found was it was 20 minutes of physical activity, approximately, per day. Or we also found evidence for 120 minutes to 180 minutes per week. So we found this dual evidence there, which I can come back to as well in terms of what the children preferred in terms of communication. 

Now, what we're not saying is that the World Health Organisation's guidance is invalid. What we are stressing is several things. Number one, ours is evidence based. The World Health Organisation made their recommendations based upon very limited evidence, if evidence at all. And they also adopted a very different methodology than what we did on that front. Nonetheless, the Chief Medical Officers have accepted the recommendations, they’ve accepted the evidence. So what it is, is 20 minutes physical activity a day is good for your health. At the same time, of course, and I say 20 minutes because when we need to co-production afterwards, in relation to how we want to communicate these messages, we asked the questions, ‘does 20 minutes work for you?’ ‘Is 120 minutes, is 180 minutes a week message work for you?’ All the children, we worked with 233 disabled children and young people, and parents, carers, and some health and social care professionals, all of them, by and large, preferred the 20 minute message.  It was more motivating, more easily achievable, and more memorable for those individuals. 

But it's also important to stress two things. We also identified that it's important to do challenging but manageable strength and balance activities three times a week. That's really important, of course, for children with cerebral palsy as just one example. We also found evidence for that small amounts of physical activity are good for health. And that's a really important message I think as well. But what was really smart with the children in the co-production group, they're incredibly smart and nuanced in their finessing of the messages. And, if I can give you just one example of this. We're also in the evidence base looking at sedentary behaviour: ‘what's the impact of sedentary behaviour on children’, and also about the evidence of small amounts of physical activity as well. So there's this dual component to it. How to break up sedentary behaviour in small but frequent amounts of physical activity. And when we were discussing this with the children, we were throwing words out from the academic literature. There's a big emphasis now on snacking, for example. Every child, every young person, and every family member hated words associated with snacking. What they preferred was this ‘do bite sized chunks of physical activity throughout the day’ to communicate that message. That for me highlighted the significance of co-production. In other words, rather than a researcher waltzing in there producing messages that they believe are appropriate, usable, meaningful for a population, it’s actually, we’ve got to work with this population so that they themselves create messages that are appropriate and meaningful and usable and useful for them. And they created that message. And when I asked the question, ‘bite sized chunks?’ I just couldn’t get my head around it! Despite having an eight year old son! And they kept going back to the obvious points. Brett, this is how BBC works, you know, social media, the TV. This is how we're taught at school; bite size. So it was culturally meaningful and relevant for them, at least within the UK context, but these are UK guidelines, of course. 

And I think what was also important in terms of the story that the told about this, they highlighted the significance, of course, of fun and exploring what makes you feel good. Those two, as well as inclusivity and equality, were really important for them to stress when we were producing the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines, because of course, too much public health focuses upon the health benefits and how much physical activity. Now we're not cognitive drones: we don't just absorb this information and do it! If something isn't fun, if something isn't pleasurable, and if something isn't inclusive, we're not going to get those benefits. We're not going to do those 20 minutes or small amounts of physical activity. So they kept stressing to us, ‘we need finding what's fun. We need exploring what makes you feel good at the heart of all Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines and the communication of them for disabled children and disabled young people. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:30:35

Well, very interesting discussions, lots and lots of things I'd like to talk about. We are limited by time, so I can't talk about everything, but I think the point you made about co-design is fundamental and essential. And that’s shining through in lots of discussions I'm having about the importance of co-design, rather than imposing beliefs upon a particular population group. Really interesting anecdote about the bite size chunks. That was really interesting to learn. 

I just want to go back to when you were talking about how when you were answering some of those questions that you were tasked with, one of them was about is physical activity safe. And you said, ‘yep. The evidence is very clear: it’s safe’. When you were looking at the evidence, was that evidence informed with a wide variety of impairment categories and types? Obviously, disability is a very complex, diverse group. It's a catch-all term which belies the individuality of the lived experience, etc. So what was your experience when you were looking at the evidence? What kind of data was collected on impairment types and categories? 


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:31:35

Yeah, we have to be careful of how we communicate this. And in the report, itself, we were very, very careful to highlight that we didn't find evidence to say that physical activity is not safe, is harmful. That was the first point. Now, of course, we had a preponderance of evidence around certain impairment groups and a lack of evidence around other impairment groups. So in the report itself, we're very cautious about certain groups and particularly, we still got issues to do with COVID and how that will impact upon people. So we did say, for example, certain impairment groups, we should then still, for example, engage with health professionals if they think it's going to be unsafe on that front. 

That said, I think two points are really worth stressing. One was that when we spoke with the children and the parents, they were very, very keen for us not to communicate messages that utilise the words ‘health and safety’ in there. They didn't want to be deemed another example of a health and safety risk. They were very smart, very creative in how they termed this message. And what they did, was created the traditional message, which was when starting build up slowly, which of course, for certain impairment groups is really important, particularly if you're not that active from the very beginning. But what they also posed was this question, and that's in the infographic and on the animation, and it was asked, ‘can you do this today?’ And that was a really smart form of messaging for two reasons and different children got it either both of the reasons or at least one of the reasons. One was, well, ask, ‘can you do this today?’ ‘I'm an expert of my own body, Brett. I know whether I can be physically active today or whether it's a really bad day for me, and therefore I'm not going to be that physically active. So I can ask myself that question. Daily’. Secondly, also don't assume as a professional, that you know what's best for me. So you ask me what's best today, whether that’s a PE teacher, for example, a coach or whatsoever. And, for them, that was a really important way of messaging in managing the issues to do with risk, health, and safety on that. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:33:56

Really interesting. Yeah. And again, really important. Actually speak to the participant, the participant is the expert on themselves, like you said. Obviously provide the guidelines and frameworks but, ultimately, it's the individual who needs to be empowered to kind of take that message on. 

You touched upon some of the health benefits and, obviously, you wouldn’t be promoting purely from the health angle, of course, but what are the kind of the benefits of participating in sport and being physically active?


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:34:20

I think we could throw numerous benefits out there that we think would be in the evidence base, such as, for example, mental health benefits and meeting new friends. Well, when we look at the quantitative evidence base, we've seen rarely any strong evidence of that, sadly. However, when we look at the qualitative evidence base, and when we spoke with the children themselves during the co-production process, they highlighted the absolute importance, number one, making new friends and meeting new people. That to them was the most significant thing. Many of the children talked about the benefits of mental health. Many of them talked about it keeps me calmer, helps me feel less stressed. And also, they talked about a sense of achievement. And many of the parents backed that up when children had come from a sports or physical activity events, but the evidence itself, what we found was that it improves confidence, concentration, it also improves balance and coordination, and also muscles and motor skills. That was what the evidence was telling us. But, of course, in the infographics and communicating it in the animation, as well, we highlighted all of those. And I think what was really interesting from how the children talked about it, and some of the parents, was that the benefits can’t be looked at in terms of a one-shot approach. And what they meant by that was just because you do physical activity on X day, you're going to get these benefits. They talked about in terms of a lifelong approach. A life course approach in many ways, in terms of for example, yeah, ‘today, what's more important for me is meeting new people. But in a year's time when I’m entering those exams, feeling calmer and less stressed is going to be really important. And of course, as I grow up, balance, coordination and muscles are going to be absolutely crucial for me’. 

So they looked at it in a really smart and clever way as well. I think we've got to focus much upon a life course approach, which we talk about, but I don't think we do as well as we could do. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:36:22

I’m just conscious that when we're talking about disabled children and young people. Were kind of, again, just kind of lumping them in one group, but were there any differences in terms of the evidence base, and also the recommendations, for those who have acquired an impairment versus those who have got a congenital impairment?


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:36:38

Yeah, that's a good question. We do highlight the limited evidence with certain impairment groups in the report itself. And I think again, this is the type of common question we get when people have much more clinically orientated question in their head, and that's why I stress in the very beginning, this is a public health population-based report and population-based forms of communication. When we move into the clinical orientated, those the types of questions that we're more interested in and again, in the report we do touch upon that, and there is some stronger evidence for certain impairment groups than other impairment groups. So for example, there was a lot of evidence in relation to cerebral palsy, intellectual and learning, but very little evidence, for example, in terms of visually impaired in terms of the quantitative evidence, for example, on that front. 

So in the report itself, we do stress, this limited evidence, and we do talk about we must be more cautious, particularly when we're at the individual level and particularly when we're moving into a more of a clinical health professional space that these differences and nuances do need to be focused upon. But hence why I come back to my other point, which the children said is ask, ‘can you do this today?’


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:37:57

Okay. Again, a really important point worth emphasising there, looking at a kind of population wide. 

What challenges exist in providing sport participation and physical activity for disabled children and young people in your opinion?


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:38:11

We could be here for hours. So I'll just focus briefly on three. Cost. One. Inclusive environments; these are still lacking despite the rhetoric. And those, of course, aren’t just about the physicality i.e. ramps and accessible buildings. This is also about psycho-emotional disablism, for example, and ableism. So, ableism, like messages, ‘sit less, stand more. Get Britain standing’. Those ableist messages and psycho-emotional disablism for example, in terms of Carol Thomas's work, are just one example in terms of children being stared at, in environments that they're made to feel awkward and less of value. So I think those two, certainly cost and inclusive environments. 

I think also it's a lack of high quality physical activity and sports. By high quality we can talk in many different ways, but there's some interesting research that I've talked about it in terms of having high quality environments in terms of providing choice. How many disabled children get a choice in comparison to non-disabled? Probably much less choice. A sense of belonging in terms of being respected and accepted in groups. Challenge. How often do we find sporting and physical activity environments that are appropriately challenging people? And competence, a sense of meaning, as well. 

So those are some of the really big challenges for us to developing, cost effective, inclusive, high quality environments: we need to do much better.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:39:43


I think, finally, I'm interested in knowing about promotion of these opportunities because often, from my readings and maybe some of the Listeners’ readings, some of the barriers could actually be awareness of opportunities, and just lack of knowledge and accessible information. So I'm wondering if you could answer this in two stages, if I could be so bold. What would be your kind of best practice recommendations for promotion of activities? But then also what happens in practice currently, and is there a difference or we kind of aligning to both of those approaches? So what strategies are used to promote physical activity and sport participation?


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:40:18

Challenging question! I think the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines is a first and small metaphorical step. Of course, Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines won't change behaviour in and off themselves. And the infographics and animation in and off themselves won’t. However, we do believe, and we are already seeing having worked with numerous schools, it is starting to raise awareness. It is starting to put it on the agenda on that front. And I think there's other ways in terms of best practice, you know, seeing some sports organisations, in terms of developing coaching, much better coaching systems for disabled children or disabled young people. We're seeing small pockets and I stress, small pockets, of opportunities in summer schools as well for disabled children and disabled young people in terms of that.

I think the visibility of disability is slightly increasing at certain moments in time notably around, of course, the Paralympics where we have a mad rush of visibility. But of course when we look at it in practice, all this diminishes considerably when we get to the community-based grassroots physical activity and sports on that front. You know, ‘what is the visibility of disabled children, disabled young people in in the different settings?’ Very low, very limited. ‘Is the high quality coaching there? Is the high quality coaching done by disabled people themselves?’ Rarely, no. So, I think on the one hand, we're making inroads and strong inroads in relation to policy and practice at the academic and policy level. But filtering that to the ground level is still a challenge. We've got a long, long way to go. I would say that we've started the academic and policy challenge over the last few years. But in terms of getting it on the ground, we've still got a long, long way to go on that front.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:42:20

Okay, well, thank you, Brett. Some fascinating insights and fascinating discussions. I, again, really appreciate you taking the time to have a chat and to share your expertise on this area. It’s been really interesting to learn more about disabled children and young people. Hopefully, you, Listener, have also enjoyed that and also learned some new information and new knowledge. 

So, thank you, Brett. It’ll be great to catch up soon. And thank you for being on the show. 


Speaker: BS                        Time: 1:42:43

Thank you very much. Take care everybody. Bye bye.


*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:42:47

Our final discussion reviews the enablers and barriers to sport participation. I spoke with Professor Simon Darcy to understand this area in more detail. 

What would you say are the main enablers and barriers to sports participation for people with disabilities?


Speaker: SD                        Time: 1:43:03

Thanks very much, Christopher. First and foremost, I must say that I’m an insider to the process. I had a spinal cord injury in a surf-related accident, and I realised it was a pivotal moment in my life for a lot of reasons. So, in speaking to you here today, I will talk some aspects of the personal, but certainly from the perspective of understanding the lived experience within the research and academic space is incredibly important. So, one of the first things I’d say to the people listening to this is to work with people with disabilities; don’t think of them as subjects in the research. So the first starting point: think about working with people with disabilities, not carrying out your research on them. And also understanding that there are key variables, and those 2 key variables are what type of disability, and I think, broadly, from the perspective of access needs, try not to use physical disability. Think more about people who have got some form of mobility disability. And then the other major types in that space are across hearing or Deaf, capital D, community. People identifying as being Deaf, capital D, they see themselves as part of a different cultural group. They don’t necessarily see themselves as having a disability. And there are different types of sign language; they do vary by continent. Then there’s people who are visually impaired or blind. People with cognitive developmental or learning disabilities. And they’re the four major groups. There’s a lot of talk about neurodiversity and what that means, and it’s a very different space, once again. Some really good work being done by the Premier League clubs, who are a little bit behind, around inclusive design for spectators.

Outside of disability type, the variable that actually identifies levels of participation, very hard for disability type, is the level of support needed for individuals. Now, the World Health Organisation, talks about none, mild, moderate, profound, and severe. We generally talk about somebody being independent, low, moderate, high or very high support needs. Basically, going from an independent person with a disability who requires very little social consideration, right through to someone who requires 24-hour care, maybe ventilator-dependent, may not be able to communicate without an assistant, et cetera. So those two variables and the way they interact do give you a really good understanding of how people can be affected and what their support needs are. 

So, in coming back to your question about what some of the enablers and barriers are, I start with the work of the Australian Sports Commission. And this hasn’t been published as widely, but it’s about the benefits people get, and it’s really interesting. So, if you took people who are independent with no real support needs, then you just really think of that group as having the same motivations to engage as, probably, the person you’re sitting next to in class, who might regard themselves as a bit of a sports fanatic. But, as you go through low, medium, high and very high, you move from a health and fitness focus to a little bit more with people with low support needs who have some impact on self-development. People with medium support needs, really starting to move into a socialising area, where they just want to mix and mix with others with like attitudes, and want a sense of achievement, they want, as I said, an opportunity to socialise, they want to improve the way they feel about themselves; self-esteem. They want to spend time with friendship groups, and they want to enjoy the company of others. And that’s very similar to people with high support needs. But when you get to people with very high support needs, it doesn’t matter whether it’s mobility or cognitive, they just want something interesting to do because the constraint levels are so high. I use the word, ‘adventure’, because sport isn’t something they generally do on a regular basis. It becomes sporadic, and the reason it becomes sporadic is that there aren’t offerings close to them. It's not easy to get to. The coaching or the facilitation has rarely had the training that’s required. The family and the friendship groups are under stress because of the ongoing high levels of support that are required. A really key one, and it’s really interesting because we find this from Paralympians right through to community level, they want to feel they belong. Because everywhere else in life they feel different. They want that sense of freedom. And there is a difference again if somebody is born with their disability or, as I outlined earlier along with my own circumstance, they have a traumatic injury. And they just want to be stimulated. So when we’re thinking about all the things sport can offer, they just want to be excited about life again. So there’s a boredom. And that boredom is because when the challenge is too high, people are anxious. When the expectation and challenge are too low; they’re bored. A lot of people with high-level of disability have been bored senseless, because their level of support may not be funded. You know, in the broader UK system, we know austerity in 2008, the broader global crunch, really cut back on programmes for high-level support needs. And they were left in the community to not do too much. So, while many people will be thinking about having, you know, nicer pecs or calves, or whatever else they want to do with their body, this other group are saying, ‘I just want to do something that breaks the monotony’. And it is that bad. And it’s still that bad because both the UK and Australia have been incredibly successful at the Paralympic level, but most of them don’t base that on good grassroots participation. They base it on talent identification schemes, championed by Australia in the lead-up to the 2000 Games, so much so in Australia, that the Australian Paralympic Committee dominated 85% of all funding at the Commonwealth level, Now, the caveat on that is that at the Commonwealth level, most local community sport doesn’t occur at that level, but talent ID means you’ll travel around geographically but, I’ve always liked a bit of Monty Python, ‘bring out your dead! I’m not dead!’, and in this case, bring out your cripples, they measure them up. Work out the ones that are gonna have most probability of success, and the other 95% who don’t make it, go back to a community where there aren’t opportunities for them. 

That all sounds pretty bleak, and it’s not as bad as it was, but it’s not as good as it could be. Because we also know there’s a phenomena in sport and recreation research and that is, ‘distance decay’. The further you are from leisure and sport opportunities, the less likely you are to participate. And in the Australian context, although there’s some very good surf spots, although a little bit colder, around the UK, surfing’s a classic example. If you’re living X distance from a beach, you’re less likely to surf on a daily or weekly basis. 

So, I will get onto the barriers now. So when we come down to this whole area of constraint. We see that there are some constraints across all people with disabilities. And what has previously been attributed as intrapersonal, we believe can be reclassified as interpersonal or structural. Things like, a person isn’t able to communicate, isn’t so much intrapersonal, but it’s got to do with the structural modes of communication., You know, a very good one around that is people who require sign language interpreters. Is it there intrinsic inability to communicate? No, of course it’s not. It’s people communicating in a way that they understand, so through sign language or captioning. And for people who are blind or visually impaired, it’s got to do with websites and the ability of screen-readers, so they can find out and plan. So, when you look at those constraints: transport, economic advantage, access to equipment, where competitions are played, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You see the intrapersonal is a more complex web of structural constraints. So when you look at the ecosystem that services sport, it’s a multi-level analysis. It’s understanding the ecosystem that sport exists within, the social context of that particular locality, region or nation. If you look at sport without taking into account the social context, well, you can’t really understand what’s required to enable and what’s been constraining. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:54:06

I’m just interested in the distinction you made between support needs and also the nature of the impairment. In terms of an organisational perspective, because that has been highlighted as one of the constraints as well in your paper, do you think organisations are aware of the need to distinguish between different support needs and different impairment types, in terms of how they’re offering sport participation or physical activity opportunities?


Speaker: SD                        Time: 1:54:33

I think at organisations there is an awareness. In Australia, we use a figure, ‘75% of sport is delivered by volunteers’. Now, if that’s the case, then it’s not just disability; it’s gender, it’s LGBTSIQ communities, it’s people from refugee backgrounds. Australia is a migrant nation; we’ve got a first nation community. So it’s very difficult in a club sense at a grassroots level to be able to marshal your resources and get the greatest effect.   

I was at a seminar just before COVID closed down face-to-face seminars, I went to hear about diversity in different areas of employment, and all we heard about was gender. And when I asked, ‘I came to listen to diversity and gender’s important, there are other areas of diversity’, I was told in no uncertain terms, ‘there’s only enough oxygen to deal with gender at the moment!’. And that was honest, but also very upsetting. Because, in this sense it was an employment sense, that they made a very strategic decision. Now, I think that occurs a lot of the time. So, you might have a champion in the organisation that makes a decision. They might have a personal interest; they might have first-hand experience of disability. And they’re going to do a disability programme. So, there are limited resources and you’ve got to understand that. 

I’m a big believer in behaviour change. Because I don’t think you can really change someone’s personal attitude to the way they think about disability, but you can certainly change the way they behave, so that they will be more aware, more empathetic to dealing with disability in a more systematic way.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:56:31

Last question to wrap-up. You have mentioned some of the challenges, we’ve obviously talked at length about some of those, but what are the main obstacles, do you think, that need to be overcome in order to reduce some constraints that are faced by people with disabilities?


Speaker: SD                        Time: 1:56:48

Not using the term, ‘people with disabilities’.  What I mean by that, and I’m not getting back to social model language around, you know, ‘disabled people’ or ‘people with disabilities’. I think, in a learning context, you’ve got to understand that it’s not a single group; not a homogenous group. And that somebody with a learning disability is so radically different to somebody with a spinal-cord injury, that you’re talking a different language when it comes to challenges that they’re facing. So, be specific. Co-design; work with people with different impairments. And I will use that word, ‘impairments’. Understand what their support needs are. And work with them and their organisations to be far more nuanced around what those support processes are that can allow them to get active and be supported in the communities where they live. If you’re gonna, you know, travel half an hour, the likelihood is you’re not going to do it every day. 

I’ve got wonderful footpaths and pathways around the areas I live. Then, when you extrapolate that to what’s close, where I go for a roll, and one of the first things I wanted to get to was my local pub. Well, I go past the swim centre, I go past a Buddhist temple, a catholic church, a major conference and convention centre, a number of other restaurants. And, after we got, you know, pathways put in, all of a sudden there's prams, there is people jogging, there is other people that are older in the community, now that the footpaths are level, they’re not trip hazards, engaging in, you know, a reasonably liveable community. But that doesn’t happen by chance. Sometimes you’ve got to make people feel uncomfortable in order to move forward as a community. We’re very lucky living in a developed nation where we do have democratic processes and, in general, at the local level, you know, the old leisure centre mentalities, where they generally want to address as many people in the population as they can. But, sometimes, they need a hand in understanding that it’s complex and it’s nuanced, and that each of those groups, if you address what their needs are, you know, you’ll have another group that you can more than adequately deal with, with some training and some resource. 


Speaker: CB                        Time: 1:59:34

Really interesting points and I think that’s a fine way to end our conversation. So, thank you ever so much, Simon. I really do appreciate some very fascinating insights and also some potential solutions, as well, which is always good to have that approach to our discussion. 

So, thank you ever so much. I look forward to catching up with you soon. Thank you ever so much.


Speaker: SD                        Time: 1:59:54

Thanks for the opportunity, Christopher, and, as one of my early bosses said to me, ‘don’t come to me with a problem; come to me with a solution’. 

Thanks very much.


Speaker: CB                        Time: 2:00:03

Excellent way to end. Thank you. 


*** Discussion ends ***


Speaker: CB                        Time: 2:00:05

That’s it. That’s all we have time for. Thanks for listening to this special episode on grassroots sport: foundational principals. Stay tuned for another Disability Sport Info episode. Until then. Goodbye. 




Introduction to physical activity and sport
Theories explaining sport participation
Disability sport policy
Disabled children and young people
Enablers and barriers
Conclusion to the podcast