Disability History Month: 'Accessibility is so much more than a physical ramp'

  • As part of our series of reports marking UK Disability History Month, Katharine Walker has been looking at the different barriers disabled people face when it comes to getting fit.

Campaigners are calling on the fitness industry to break-down barriers to fitness, as new research shows that 80% of disabled people would like to be more active.

Under the Equality Act, gyms and leisure centres must make reasonable adjustments for all their members. But in practice, disabled people say they still find it difficult to access fitness. 

Figures from the Disability and Activity Survey, run by the Activity Alliance, found that 80% of disabled people want to be more active, but only 30% feel they have the opportunity to be as active as they want.''

A YouGov poll also found that only half of disabled people (50%) agree that they are made to feel welcome in sport and physical activity settings.

  • Barry Horne, CEO of the Activity Alliance, speaking to ITV News

Barry Horne, Chief Executive of the Activity Alliance charity, is calling on gyms and fitness centres to put accessibility at the heart of their post-lockdown business plans.

He said: ''We started with a position where disabled people were starting to get more and more active. But most of that progress has been wiped out by the impact of Covid, and that's what our latest survey sadly shows.

He added: ''Disabled people are as keen as non-disabled people to be active.''

  • Disability fitness expert James Sutliff wants personal trainers to do more research

James Sutliff works as a personal trainer specialising in disability. He joined the fitness industry after developing dystonia - a condition that affects his speech and movement.

He wants personal trainers to take the initiative and educate themselves about disability.

He said: ''It is getting better, but more needs to be done. I think coaches need to do their own research and learn how to adapt kit. That's the only way coaches will understand and be more confident in coaching disabilities.''

  • Sophie Wilson talking to ITV News

Sophie Wilson, Head of Peer Support & Development at the Matt Hampson Foundation, says accessibility is about physical and psychological barriers.

She explained: ''Some people are under the assumption that you can put a ramp in place and that makes that space accessible. But, accessibility is so much more than a physical ramp. It's how you feel when you're in that environment.''

She added: ''I think instructors and gym owners should make the additional effort to make people very welcome as a disabled person, and also expand their knowledge on disability too. ''