London Sport leading the way on disability conversation

Disability Sports Coach

London Sport are leading the conversation when it comes to the challenges faced by disabled people during COVID-19. 

Financial struggles, mental health issues and the challenge of ensuring accessibility on reopening formed the focus of a recent Talking Covid-19 & Sport webinar delivered by London Sport and the Mayor’s Office. 

Alex Gibbons, the specialist advisor for disability at London Sport, was one of three speakers on the webinar and he addressed problems being faced with the 100 people who participated. 

Inspired by a hard-hitting report undertaken by Inclusion London entitled ‘Abandoned, forgotten and ignored – the impact of Covid-19 on Disabled people’, Alex believes a lot of work needs to be done to ensure disabled people feel safe and welcome to return to physical activity. 

“We work closely with the Mayor’s Office and they were keen to address the challenges thrown up by COVID-19 and the influence that’s having,” Alex said. 

“Because deaf and disabled people are being hit so hard by COVID-19, and already were by things like austerity and challenges to benefits, it really hit home. 

“A couple of our disability partners produced reports that emphasised this. They were really hard-hitting, and I quoted one in the webinar which is done by Inclusion London. 

Disability Sports Coach

“The launch of that inspired us to make sure we did one of the webinar series about disability and inequality and our role in addressing that. 

“For the providers the challenge is actually making the reasonable adjustments that are going to make people safe and welcome. 

“There’s a lot of work to do on this still. It’s difficult because a lot of operators and providers want to do the right thing but some of them might be struggling for their existence at the moment. 

“We want to show that we’re here to support them to embed that thinking into their work when they’re reopening. 

“We’ve got our own tackling inequalities fund, which was devolved to us by Sport England. Some of that money is going towards disability-focused projects. 

“We’re going to invest in the right areas and support the right organisations and partners to make sure we’re getting this right from the outset.” 

“We’re also working with the Mayor of London’s Community Sports Team to ensure their upcoming ‘Stronger Communities’ funding reaches disabled people disproportionately more at risk of loneliness and isolation during COVID-19. For more information on this, click here.

Disability Sports Coach

Alex, who leads for London Sport on work in enabling and empowering deaf and disabled people to be more physically active, was joined by two other speakers in head of programmes & impact at Disability Rights UK Leanne Wightman and project manager in the Mayor of London’s sport team Kerri Atherton.  

And, as well as discussing the challenges currently facing disabled people and their involvement in sport, Alex fielded questions from a range of activity providers and professionals, providing advice on how they can enable disabled people to get back into activity.

He added: “Loads of organisations have really stepped up and thought about their more inclusive offers so it was about providing guidance on this so I tried to pinpoint these resources. 

“Some of it was more general guidance so I spoke about Activity Alliance and their return to play guidance focused on disabled people. 

“Then there were specific things, so video content like Joe Wicks and people creating content that has audio description for visually impaired people or it has interpreters or subtitles. 

“This is as important time as ever for us, the sports sector, to be working with community organisations from the disability sector because we can’t second guess when it’s going to be safe for a person. 

“You can have all the government guidance you want but people take that differently. You and I might have a different capacity for risk so we have to recognise that that applies to disabled people and try and think in as individual terms as much as possibly can.  

“The only way you can do that is to talk to people and make changes based on their recommendations.” 

Overall, despite it being clear that the challenges will not go away anytime soon, Alex feels that the webinar was a hugely positive step – encouraging an open discussion on where things can move forward. 

But he is keen to stress the dialogue and the work is just getting started. 

“I think the webinar was incredibly important,” Alex added. “I was really grateful for the opportunity to be able to do it. 

“The data has shown that disability participation figures were moving in the right direction before COVID-19 hit so my concern is that because of all the barriers and challenges, things won’t just not get better, they’ll get worse and inequalities will be exacerbated. 

“We’re building on the discussion. Talking to the Greater London Authority about how we can make sure our work is as complimentary as possible based on the things raised in the session.” 

Talking Covid-19 & Sport webinar delivered by London Sport video recording is available here.

For more information on London Sport visit www.londonsport.org

Images courtesy of Disability Sports Coach