Podcast: Making connections and breaking down barriers

The Disability Download

Nick Bishop chats to Donna, a boccia coach and wheelchair user, Scott, a rower who is blind; and Arthur, a youth advocate who plays boccia and powerchair football. 


[The podcast begins with short snippets from this episode]

Arthur Lawson: My message would be as: just because you might have a barrier, don't give up. Cos one day you will succeed.

Donna Robinson: I would also like to see Sport for Confidence and the service they provide in almost every leisure centre because it has changed my life for the better.

Lydia Bone: Making sport and physical activity more inclusive doesn't have to be so complex or difficult as some providers might think.

Scott Ballard-Ridley: Just programmes that get people moving and get people active in their non-structured ways are really good. It's a really good start for a lot of really good benefits for people.

[The full episode starts]

Nick Bishop: Hello and welcome to The Disability Download – brought to you by pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire. We respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability.

Hi everyone and thanks for joining us. My name is Nick and I'm your guest host for this month's episode. So this month we're talking all about disability sport and the importance of inclusive sport programmes. We speak to Lydia Bone, Programme Manager for Get Yourself Active at Disability Rights UK. And we speak to three disabled sportspeople about their experiences: Donna Robinson, who used the Sport for Confidence scheme and became a boccia coach; Scott Ballard-Ridley, a keen rowing enthusiast; and Arthur Lawson, a Leonard Cheshire youth advocate who plays boccia and powerchair football. So, let's get straight into the podcast.

So I'm here with several people who know all about disability sport. Firstly, Lydia Bone, Get Yourself Active Programme Manager at Disability Rights UK. So, Lydia. Welcome to the podcast.

Lydia Bone: Hi. Nice to be here.

Nick: Thank you. So could you tell us: what is the Get Yourself Active programme and where can people find out about it?

Lydia: So, we're a programme that's funded by Sport England and led by Disability Rights UK. The main reason we exist is because we know through our work that disabled people are found to be one of the most inactive groups in society. And we know that there's a lot more that needs to be done when it comes to understanding the barriers that disabled people face when accessing physical activity.

Lydia: So we're quite a big programme. We're involved in various different work streams. And our work is not about delivering activities ourselves. But instead, it's around using our learning and knowledge and our experience to influence other sectors to improve how they work with disabled people. And so this includes working with other disabled people's user-led organisations – we’re user-led ourselves at Disability Rights UK - and it includes working with the social care, social work and sports sectors. All with the aim of helping disabled people would to get active in a way that's right for them.

So you can find out more about us on our website or by getting in touch with me. And although I will mention the website, we're in the process of redoing it to make it more user friendly; so hopefully, from March onwards you'll be able to find exactly what you're looking for on our website.

Nick: Brilliant. That's great. What do you think are some of the challenges that you found people have faced when accessing sport and physical activity?

Lydia: So we know through our work at Disability Rights UK that there's so many barriers that disabled people face in everyday life. And a lot of these barriers cross over to physical activity too, and we often hear about so many of these barriers as part of our work.

So just briefly, we've got: physical barriers; lack of accessible equipment, for example; communication barriers - for example: if there's no easy read documents; and negative attitudes from others, such as stereotyping and discrimination. It might be lack of confidence, especially if people have had negative experiences in the past: for example, from facing discrimination. And also a big one that comes up as part of our work is actually lack of information available about where to find inclusive activities.

Nick: And er hopefully we can, we can work to remove those. And this programme will help with that. And so..tell me more about the co-production element of the programme and why inclusive programmes like this are so important.

Lydia: Yeah. So I'll give like a really brief overview of co-production for those who might not have heard of it before. So co-production is all about people who deliver services and those who use services working together in partnership to design and deliver programmes or activities. And we know through our work that if the sports sector are really co-producing with disabled people, it will make activities much more inclusive – because disabled people are being brought in as partners in the very beginning of setting up an activity or a project.

So this means a lot of those barriers that I spoke about previously are spoken about early on in the design process. And activities are designed to be more accessible and inclusive from the very beginning, so reducing a lot of those barriers and improving opportunities to be active. And we know as well that when services are co-produced they will generally work better – because they're making the most of that shared expertise of the professionals and also people who have experience of using services And it means, er, that projects can deliver what people really want and people are more likely to stay engaged in them, which means in turn they're more likely to feel the benefits.

So as part of Get Yourself Active, we really want to embed this philosophy of co-production in the sport sector. We think this approach will really take down a lot of these barriers that stop disabled people from accessing physical activity and empower them to get active and ways that work for them. And so we've been working with other disabled people's user led organisations and delivering co-production training to the sport and leisure sector. And this is so that they can learn more about this way of working and start to embed coproduction approaches in practice.

But we know that this is just a starting point. There's so much work that needs to be done, and we know that there's a lot of misunderstanding as well in the sector around what co-production actually means. So we're also working towards building this shared narrative of what co-production is in this sector, and what it looks like.

Nick: And finally, could you just give me an insight into the work of Disability Rights UK – very briefly?

Lydia: Disability Right’s UK is a disabled person's user-led organisation. So this means we're run by and for disabled people. And our work includes representing the needs of disabled people. And we do this by campaigning on a number of different issues and policy areas. So, for example: independent living, work and education, just as some examples. And we do things like running advice phone lines, supporting with things like welfare rights. We also publish advice sheets and guides as well as the Disability Rights UK handbook as well to support disabled people and the people that work with them as well.

Nick: Fantastic. That's really good. Thanks, Lydia.

Lydia: Thank you.

Nick: So along with you I've got, I've got four people who are keen sportspeople So first of all, we’ve got Donna Robinson. Donna - tell us how you got involved in sport and how others can others can get involved, from your ample.

Donna Robinson: Yeah. So I came to sport really through my hydrotherapist, my physiotherapist, who mentioned a scheme called Sport for Confidence – which is an allied health professional working in a local leisure centre; and the allied health professionals are occupational therapists working alongside a coach to teach us a wide range of sport. And that could be boccia, swimming, cricket, football, cricket, dance; and a scheme called Love to Move, which is exercising and challenging the brain as well.

Nick: And so, which sports did you specialize in? And what benefits did that bring you?

Donna: So because I was quite self-conscious at the time when I first entered the leisure centre – Sport for Confidence was new to me completely. It was something time. So my first session was boccia, which is seated bowls and also a Paralympic sport.

Nick: Yeah.

Donna: And then I slowly gained in confidence and slowly progressed into looking at other services – or sports, sorry – that Sport for Confidence offers.

Nick: Brilliant. And you're now coach, right?

Donna: Yes. So about my fourth year in being a participant of Sport for Confidence: the senior occupational therapist, along with the head coach, approached me to do a boccia leadership course. And I did it, completed it and got boccia gold. So that means I can run my own sessions of boccia, or matches, and that's what happened. (Laughs) And that's what I do now, as well as playing as from time to time as well.

Nick: Brilliant So you're giving back as well as getting stuff out of it. That's great.

Donna: Yep.

Nick: Scott. Tell me how you got involved in sport.

Scott: So I've always been really keen on sport. I’ve played sport since I was very young. And then in 2007, I suffered quite a major stroke which left me with some quite significant physical impairments and also caused me to lose my vision as well.

And as I was, going through quite a long stay in hospital, I was kind of sitting there – feeling pretty sorry for myself, to be honest with you, that I wasn't going to be able to do a lot of the sports I’d previously done. I sat down with my therapist at the time.

They encouraged me to look at “what was it about those sports that I previously enjoyed?”. And for me, I kind of sat down and was thinking. Actually it wasn't so much the sports that I enjoyed, but it was more kind of being outdoors and the teamwork aspects, the you know, the, getting my heart rate up.. And what they encouraged me to do was to try and identify, er, maybe something I could do now with, you know, my new impairments that would encompass all of those things.

And it just so happened that this was around the time that the Beijing 2007 Olympics. Er, sorry, yeah. That's the Olympics in 2008, sorry. And, er, I… So there were plenty of sports on TV for me to kind of browse, really, and look at. And rowing really stood out for me as something that I could do because I didn't need to see where I was going. But I also could do it sitting down as well. So when I came out of hospital, I approached my local Rowing Club. And I said to them: “Do you have any adaptive rowers?” And they said “No, we don't. But we’d be, er, we would be happy to give it a go with you.” So I went down to the Rowing Club and kind of started rowing with them.

And it was a pretty rocky ride in the beginning. You know, there was a lot of learning for me and for them in the beginning stages., And we, you know, we had to mock up a lot of ways for me to get onto a rowing machine to get onto the water. And things like that. But it really, you know, it really took off, and it was a big learning thing for me. A lot of enjoyment for me, a lot of enjoyment for the club. And you know, the coaches, but also other members of the club as well.

Scott: And it was… Yeah, it was fantastic. And I ended up going pretty far. I ended up trialling for the 2012 Paralympic squad, but didn't quite get there. But yeah. That, for me, was really important because it allowed me to reconnect with what it was about sport that I’d previously enjoyed.

Nick: That's fantastic! Arthur. Tell me how you how you got involved in sport.

Arthur Lawson: So I first started sport when I was about five or six. Now this was at my local sports centre. They ran a Sport Swimming Club for people with mixed level of disability. And at that time it was run by the head of the disability sports organisation in my area. And I took part in weekly swimming sessions, which obviously it was more like a hydrotherapy thing than active competing and swimming sort of sports session.

And then from that I then moved on to the like, a multi-sports club. That was when I was a bit, a bit, older. I took part in wheelchair basketball and they had some archery there, they had shooting. And that really got me interested in competing in sport.

And from there I then found a – this is a few years later – I found a basketball club, and I took part in wheelchair basketball. But unfortunately.my disability deteriorated, which meant I could no longer take part in wheelchair basketball. And that's when I took up boccia. And I've been competing in boccia for quite a few years – at a local level, at regional level and national level. I've been quite successful at that. Not too successful getting into like into like the British or Scottish squads, but I have won several competitions and I've progressed quite well since I first started it. And I've now started competing in powerchair football and I've been doing that for about five or six years.

Nick: Brilliant. Brilliant. Well, that's really good! Well, we'll start with you Donna. And we want to find out how other disabled people can get involved in accessible sport and physical activity. And why it's so important for them to for people to get involved, if they can.

Donna: Yep. So the way Sport for Confidence works is: they can go to their nearest leisure centre – we've got a few now. There is a website that people can look at as well, which is sportforconfidence.com. But basically, you can either be referred by a health professional – be it your GP, or like myself who was referred by her physiotherapist. But you can also go down to your local leisure centre and refer yourself if you are disabled and interested in sports.

Nick: Why do you think it's so important for disabled people to get involved?

Donna: Because in a traditional world, there's not a lot. I mean… without Sport for confidence, I wouldn't be able – may not be able to, sorry – go to my leisure centre and try using a standard piece of equipment, without someone saying: “OK. You want to use that? Why do you want to use that? You've got your condition – like, you’re disabled. So why do you want to have a go?” Well, why can't I have a go? You're having ago, so why can't I?

Nick: Yeah. Exactly. Scott. Why do you think it's important for people to get involved and, and how would you advise them to get involved?

Scott: I've learned so much in my life through sport and it's opened up so many opportunities. I've gained so many friends through sport. And you know, the social connection that I've gained through sport has been, has been huge. But also the kind of social skills that it's taught me as well have been massive. I can go to, you know, anywhere, not know anybody, and have a conversation about sports. And it's almost an instant connection with somebody. Erm, which is, you know, which is a fantastic thing.

But also just those kind of those, erm, core skills which have really been invaluable for me in the workplace as well. So those kind of team, the team skills. Or the, you know, the kind of belief in myself. Or kind of things like goal setting and things like that have, really, have all started for me in in sport – which, yeah, for me, have really been key in my life.

And in terms of how people can get started. I mean, for me: it was, you know, just identifying what it is that I would like to do. So getting, encouraging people to think… What is it that you enjoy in life? What kind of things do you enjoy? And then trying to identify what sport can maximize that. So do you enjoy, you know: do you enjoy team things or do you enjoy more solo things? Do you enjoy things that are outdoors or do you enjoy indoor things? Do you enjoy ball sports or, you know, things like that. And then trying to identify something that correlates with what you enjoy. Because that's got to be the biggest thing – to do something you really, really enjoy.

And then try and find somewhere that can help you to kind of learn about that, really, in your in your local area. Because trying to point to go somewhere that's not local to you will, you know, will end up being a barrier. And then approach them and see if they can accommodate you. And if they can't accommodate you then then try and work with them to accommodate you – would, kind of, be my – would be my top, top, tips really.

Nick: Thanks. That sounds great. And it sounds like some quite wide-ranging benefits there. And also encouraging that you can persuade people to – to get on board and make things accessible. Arthur, can you tell. Can you tell me a bit about why you think it's so important for disabled people to get involved?

Arthur: I think taking part in sport, whether it's as an individual: as an individual, it can help improve confidence. It can help increase your skills – in terms of, like with, erm – keep you active. And if you’re talking about a team sport: it can improve socializing. It can improve mental health. It has lots of wide-ranging of benefits, not just physical.

And in terms of getting involved. I would say that the best way to do this, like others have said, is go to your local sport centre – cos there's usually some sort of sports club or programme going on there. And if you can't find anything there: try going online and searching for local disability organization in your area. Because they all have a list of clubs and opportunities for you to get involved in.

Nick: Brilliant, that's great. And then a question for all of you again. Thinking about the sport and physical activity for disabled people, what do each of you want to see change in the future? So, Donna. What would you like to change to make things easier for disabled people to get involved in sport?

Donna: For me, I'd like to see it on telly more. I would also like to – if they can – see Sport for Confidence and the service they provide in almost every leisure centre because it has changed my life for the better.

Nick: Brilliant. That sounds great. And Scott, what are your thoughts on that?

Scott: I've got to agree with what Donna said. But I would also like to see more communication between different sports about what they found that works well and what pitfalls they've discovered. And really harnessing that learning that different sports have had. Because different sports are at different stages with their development in terms of disability sport. And there is so much learning that can be harnessed between different sports. And, you know, we don't want sports having to reinvent the wheel. So yeah. Really more kind of cross-communication between different sports about what's worked well, what hasn't worked well; what things that we can learn from each other, I think, as well.

Nick: Arthur. What do you want to see change in the future to enable more disabled people to participate in sports?

Arthur: Yeah. So I agree with Both Donna and Scott., But I'd also like to add that um, attitudes need to change as well. So I think attitude is one of the biggest barriers as well. So people need to understand, like, just understand disability and how it affects them. Because I think that is what is preventing a lot of disabled people taking part. As well as , even…. seeing disability sport advertised on TV [is rare]. There’s another barrier. But the main thing I would say is attitude. Attitudes need to change so people can fully involved and included.

Nick: Right. So is that in terms of understanding how disability affects people? And also attitude to disabled people participating in sports, so that people see – so that everyone sees – that disabled people can participate.

Arthur: Yeah. I would say absolutely both. Both of those are true. And yeah, some people you know, think that it’s like: everybody with a certain disability are the same. And it's not. Two people aren't the same. And it affects everybody differently. So my main… my main message would be saying that people need to see people with disabilities as individuals and not by our diagnosis. And understand that what they're telling you about how it affects them is how it affects them. And they should be able to be fully included.

Nick: Does some of what's raised there chime with your experience working on Get Yourself Active?

Lydia: Yeah. That definitely chimes with our work on the programme. And I think one way to better promote inclusive sport and physical activities is by sharing a lot of these positive stories as well – of disabled people getting active and the impact it's had on their lives as well and how inclusive activities can really improve the opportunities. I think we also need to show that that making sport and physical activity more inclusive doesn't have to be so complex or difficult as some providers might think it's really about working together in partnership, then finding out what works well and what doesn't. So it really doesn't have to be as complex as people might think it is.

Nick: So what would be your top tips to providers in terms of making sport accessible

Lydia: So, yeah. I think if disabled people's organisations and the sport and leisure sector really work in partnership together – to reduce a lot of these barriers and to improve inclusive sports programmes – that's really going to reduce a lot of these barriers as well. And it's not going to happen overnight. But working towards these more inclusive programs means that shift in power dynamics to create that more equal relationship – as I mentioned before when I spoke about co-production. And I think the more of those who work in this way, the better services and the more inclusive programs we’lll provide.

Nick: What have you seen in terms of the huge benefits of sport? Because you must have worked with loads and loads of disabled people.

Lydia: Yeah. I think one thing that really comes out of our work is so a lot of people might focus on the physical benefits of physical activity. That tends to be where people are drawn to. So think of physical activity as losing weight, for example. Whereas through our work, we really promote more benefits; for example, the social benefits: of people really becoming more involved in their communities, making friends. And how that can really improve people's mental wellbeing as well. So there's so much more to physical activity than just the physical benefits. Although obviously they're very important as well. But there's a lot more to it, I think, than people initially think.

Nick: All of you all of you have shown some huge benefits to sport, there. And it's inspired me to try… to try to get going and finally sign up to an activity centre. Does anyone else have anything they want to add?

Scott: I have one point, Nick, which is just that not all involvement needs to be in the form of structured sports. So I think one way for people to really feel the benefits of activity is just through unstructured activity. So it doesn't have to be that people have to go and do a sport. You know, like rowing or football or whatever it might be.

Scott: Actually just getting people active: just moving their bodies is a really good way to get people active. And actually just programmes that get people moving and get people active in an unstructured ways are really good. It's a really good start for a lot of lots of really good benefits for people. And it's a less threatening way, a less imposing way, for people to get involved and to get people active.

Nick: Yeah.

Lydia: So true, Scott. Yeah. A lot of the, like… People seem to think of physical activity as like sports, don’t they? But there's so much more to it. There's things like gardening; you know, cleaning your house. All that sort of stuff is getting yourself moving. So I think, yeah, it's definitely good to think wider than just sport as well.

Arthur: My message would be as: just because you might have a barrier, don't give up. Cos one day you will succeed.

Nick: Thanks again to all our guests. It's really interesting to see how it can be possible for disabled people to get along to the local leisure centre, have a conversation about what sports or activity they'd like to do and get started. And it's great to see how programmes like Get Yourself Active, Sport for Confidence and others are inspiring people to take part. Watch out for more details of Leonard Cheshire’s inclusive sport programmes too. We'll put relevant links and social media channels in the episode notes on our Simplecast site, so do check those out.

As always, we want to know what you think of the episode. So please do email us at disabilitydownload@leonardcheshire.org or contact us on social at Leonard Cheshire. And if you want to hear a particular guest: get on social media, tag them, tag us and let us know. Thanks so much for listening, everyone. Stay safe. See you next time. I'm Nick and this has been the Disability Download.