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Everyone Has A Right To Sporting Opportunities, Not Just The Talented Few

21/08/2017 14:35

everybody

The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) is a national charity working to make active lives possible. To do this, we enable organisations to support individual disabled people to be active and stay active for life. Established in September 1998, the charity has a vision that disabled people are active for life.

Andy, Deputy Chief Executive of EFDS, is a former international cricketer, with lived experience of disability. In 2004, he set up his own project, Sport for Choice, creating sporting opportunities for blind and visually impaired young people. It built young people's self-confidence, self-esteem, independence and friendships. In 2009, he was recognised at the Pride of Britain Awards for this work with disabled people.

Why can't you be like those brilliant Paralympians we see on our television? If they can do it, why can't you? Just two of the questions we get asked as disabled people.

We cannot miss the number of articles telling us that being active is good for our bodies and minds. Various campaigns reflect our country's growing concern around obesity and long-term health conditions due to inactivity.

But being active for the first time or returning to an activity after becoming disabled can be a daunting experience for many. For those thinking about exercise, it can be more than just getting on a bike or joining the local gym.

How do I get there? What will other people's reaction be? What if I need someone's support to take part? What if the information isn't accessible for me to read?

We can all do more to reduce the fear factors amongst disabled people and those organising activities. Disabled people's fear is likely to be greater than providers. The barriers they may have to overcome in reaching the session can be huge.

Isn't it the job of those of us, who create opportunities, to think about how we include disabled people? Shouldn't we be brave and ask disabled people, who are among our target audiences, how we can enable them to take part? Rather than letting our fear limit interactions and disabled people's opportunities?

At EFDS, we often hear from disabled people about worries over personal benefits being cut if they are or appear to be active. Whilst we can all encourage independent living through activity, the extra financial and physical support for many disabled people is a significant factor in being active.

You only have to open a newspaper to see critical stories of active people- portrayed as 'benefit scammers' or 'fraudsters'. Negative portrayals do not help others' or our ambition to increase the active population. This harmful representation can make disabled people fearful of promoting their active lifestyle in case of the financial consequence. It's not good for the wider public health agenda and it's definitely not helpful in creating more positive role models, who we all relate to.

I have personally enjoyed the benefits of playing elite level sport, but I have also witnessed the friendship, camaraderie, improvements in self-worth and confidence that being part of an inclusive sporting session can bring. This shouldn't hold us back due to fear of benefit cuts but, instead, be celebrated to ensure others can fulfil their sporting and social potential.

We believe that it will take long-term collaboration to increase the number of active people with impairments or health conditions. That's within Government, education, sport, health, third sector, media and communications. Together these sectors and their spokespeople have the power to change minds.

As you can read, our task ahead is not easy- it is not always as simple as going from inactive one day to active the next. One-size does not fit all. The desire to be active and the reality of leading an active lifestyle can still be worlds apart- accompanied by fear and self-doubt. But everybody deserves the opportunity to be active, not just the talented few.

Visit www.efds.co.uk to find out more about the charity's work.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.

We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email natasha.hinde@huffingtonpost.com, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.

Join in the conversation with #HPEveryBody on Twitter and Instagram.

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