Half of parents with disabled children who took part in a recent survey say their child does not feel comfortable in participating in sporting activities with other children, as the children’s charity Variety calls for a more ‘level playing field’ for all disabled children.
The charity’s report ‘Sporting opportunities for children with disabilities’ analyses data from 137 parents of children with a disability and 97 staff at schools, finding that children with disabilities have fewer opportunities to participate in sport than non-disabled children.
Fewer than one in five parents of children with disabilities surveyed for the report (19%) say their disabled child plays sports with friends, while only 9% say their child takes part in sport through specialist clubs.
The charity has identified two main barriers to disabled children’s participation in sporting activities, with the main reason being social stigma.
Over a third (36%) of parents who took part in the survey said their child had experienced negative social attitudes to their health problem or disability in relation to sport.
Secondly, 76% of Special Educational Needs schools said facilities or equipment were a barrier to children participating in sports, while 66% of mainstream schools said transportation was a barrier to disabled children taking part in sports.
Variety warns that these barriers are “having a profound impact on children with disabilities in the UK”, with 72% of schools and children’s groups surveyed saying that a lack of participation in sport was causing disabled children to become more isolated from society.
This isolation also “has a knock-on effect to a child’s confidence and their wider educational attainment”, the charity says.
Sarah Nancollas, Chief Executive of Variety, said: “Whether it’s kicking a ball with your friends or participating in competitive sports for your school, all children deserve to have the opportunity to take part in sports.
“Sadly, this isn’t the case for many children with disabilities. Whilst we were aware that many of these children faced barriers accessing sports, I am disappointed at how extensive this issue is.
“Today, Variety has taken the first step in shining a spotlight on this issue and we’re calling for our peers and political stakeholders to consult with us so, together, we can level the playing field so all children with disabilities across the UK have a chance to participate in sports.”
Commenting on Variety’s report, Dr Miriam Stoppard said: “I believe every child, including those with disabilities, have the right to optimise their physical capabilities and through that their overall wellbeing.
“In addition all children, even those with lower levels of fitness, have the right to join in recreational activities with other children and build teamwork and sociability.
“This isn’t always easy for children with disabilities who are more likely than others to be sedentary, making them more vulnerable to obesity and its attendant health hazards.
“The participation of children with disabilities in any physical activity can minimise the complications of immobility. Not only does it keep them physically and mentally fit it also fosters independence, coping abilities and working with other team members.”