Birmingham City Council admits more should be done to help people with disabilities access sport

ITV News Central's Hannah Ludlow reports.

People with physical and learning disabilities in Birmingham have spoken out about the barriers they are facing in sport.

It comes as the city council admits shortfalls in providing enough access to physical activity.

Some of the difficulties they face include instructors not understanding their needs and overcrowded, noisy gyms which can be overwhelming.

Oliver Clayton, 33, has a learning disability and enjoys riding an adapted bike during Parkride sessions at Woodgate Valley Country Park.

Oliver says he loves riding his adapted bike during the Parkride sessions at Woodgate Valley Country Park. Credit: ITV News Central

He says he likes the sessions, run by disability charity Midland Mencap, as the instructors know his needs and adapt the sessions to suit them.

However, when he tries new sports, he sometimes struggles when instructors are not trained to adapt to his needs.

Oliver says: “At swimming, they don’t understand my needs yet, and I find that a bit hard.”

Kath Hyslop also has a learning disability. Last summer she represented Team GB in hockey during the Special Olympics.

In her free time, Kath goes to the gym, but thinks it would be more enjoyable if there were quieter hours set aside for those with special needs. 

She says this would allow her to have "more time and you don’t have to rush to get off a machine.

“There’s a lot of noise and I find it difficult to concentrate. I think there should be more machines, there are a lot of people in the gym so you find it difficult to get on one," she adds.

Her ideas are echoed by Ashleigh Jones, who works for Midlands Mencap and has autism and cerebral palsy.

She says she is forced to go to the gym in the early hours of the morning to avoid large crowds which trigger her autism.

"Loud noises - it's quite a sensory overload for me. To combat that I normally wear noise-cancelling headphones," she said.

"I do go to the gym a lot earlier than most because then it's a lot quieter and I'm able to to go on all the equipment that I'm able to go on to keep the symptoms of my physical disability at bay."

She adds: “Having those times where it would have quieter times would be absolutely imperative for myself and also others with lots of disabilities and long term health conditions to feel that they are in a more accessible environment to exercise in."

How much of an issue is access to physical activity in Birmingham?

According to statistics from Birmingham City Council, only 55% of people aged 16+ in Birmingham are 'active' - which means they do at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

Of those aged 5-16 years, only 42% are 'active' - meaning they do at least 60 minutes of activity every day.

People with disabilities or long term health conditions in the city are a third more likely to be inactive than able-bodied people.

Two in five young people are inactive. That’s the same for those aged 55 and over.

One in three women, and one in four men, do not do any form of physical activity.

People from an Asian (excl. Chinese) background are nearly twice as likely to be inactive compared to a white British background.

The proportion of adults living in IMD1 (most deprived area) who are inactive is nearly double (39%) those living in IMD 10 (least deprived area) (21%).

To tackle the issue, the Birmingham City Council has developed a new strategy which hopes to make sport more accessible for everyone in the city.

It aims to educate fitness leaders about how to adapt exercise for certain needs, and to ensure everyone finds an activity they enjoy.

The City Council has admitted that it should have done more to provide people with learning disabilities access to sport and other physical activities.

A spokesperson for the authority told ITV News Central: "People with learning difficulties are a really key group in the city, but we’ve not really organised ourselves as well as we could do to make sure they have the services that keep them fit and healthy.

When asked how the project will be funded, they said: "The strategy isn’t about spending more money. It’s about spending existing money more wisely so that people who pay their council tax get more bang for their buck.

"We’ve got basketball investment, new facilities with tennis courts, and playzones are coming too."

The authority has partnered with Sport Birmingham to co-commission the Active Birmingham Activity Finder - an online platform that makes it easy to find physical activity sessions anywhere in Birmingham.

The tool gives people the opportunity to search for a particular kind of session, or search for all sessions close to them on a map.

They can specify that the sessions should be for people of a particular age or gender, or filter for accessibility for people with different needs.

The City Council is also in the process of launching a culturally competent physical activity toolkit, which would be accessible to various services to use to support the diverse Birmingham population to be more active in a culturally sensitive way.

This will help educate fitness advisors, health care professionals and other frontline colleagues on how to engaging people from different backgrounds, and with different needs.

In response to calls for more leisure centres to introduce quiet hours for those with special needs, Birmingham City Council said: "We have worked with providers to understand the need of citizens with learning disabilities, and we will continue to consult with them to ensure we meet those needs.

"We, therefore, plan to work with our providers to identify scope for providing alternative and quieter classes at the wellbeing centres."

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