Make It Count campaign launched!

Laura Cook

Disabled sportspeople from Paralympic to grassroots level have thrown their support behind a new campaign aimed at inspiring a boost in activity during this summer’s Games.

Make It Count has been launched by Scope following new research by the disability charity which found nearly half (48 per cent) of disabled people have become less active since the pandemic began.

The same research discovered more than a third (35 per cent) of disabled people feel excluded from sport, citing barriers such as negative attitudes, inaccessible sporting venues and a lack of trained staff to support disabled people.

Oliver Lam-Watson, a wheelchair fencer who will make his Paralympic debut in Tokyo, understands those feelings but hopes Make It Count can help alter perceptions.

The campaign sees participants asked to choose an active challenge to take on during the 13 days of Paralympic action between August 24 and September 5, which could be daily, a one-off or anything in between.

Unlike other sports challenges that focus on distance, Make it Count participants clock up minutes, either aiming for a target or seeing how they go, while raising vital funds for Scope – with those raising over £100 to receive an exclusive Make It Count medal to mark the achievement.

Lam-Watson said: “There are lot of people who are really insecure about their disability, and if they experience any judgment from people for trying a new sport they’re not going to go back. These are barriers created by society.

“One thing I struggled with growing up was that there were no disabled role models for me, that could inspire me. But media representation has improved and hopefully now the attitudes towards disability have changed a lot.

“The Paralympics are an amazing symbol of inclusivity that tell the world that we are all athletes, and that has really changed since 2012.

“My teammate is world number one. And he was offered wheelchair fencing at school. How many champions could we have in this country if we had more sport to offer disabled kids?

“As a young disabled person, I always felt like I had to be better than everyone else just to be seen as equal.

“The only person who knows whether you can or can’t do this is you. So go and find out.”

While Lam-Watson and his ParalympicsGB teammates will be going for gold in Tokyo, the Make It Count campaign aims to inspire those who may just be beginning or restarting their sporting journeys to clock up minutes.

Despite the barriers identified in Scope’s research, 91 per cent of respondents want to become more active and the charity is calling on sporting facilities around the UK to make themselves more accessible to disabled people.

Laura Cook, who has Nail Patella Syndrome, a genetic syndrome which affects her mobility, hopes the campaign will help shine a light on participation within disability sport in the same manner as London 2012.

“Growing up, it felt like no one at school was making an effort to include me in sports,” she said.

“In my 30s, my mobility got worse and it was impacting my daily life, so I thought that I needed to do some kind of exercise.

“My previous experience of gyms and personal trainers were intense and intimidating. When I asked staff to help me find things I could do in the gym and I was faced with these negative attitudes and just felt like a burden.

“Then I joined a different gym and got a personal trainer and I’ve never looked back. What I’ve noticed is that one-to-one support helps so much and it’s great to have someone who knows you and adapts to your needs.

“Joining a gym has had a huge positive effect on my mental health. The satisfaction of being able to do something you didn’t think you’d be able to do is priceless. I’ve achieved things in the gym that I never thought I would.

“For me personally, London 2012 was a complete revelation. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Paralympic 2012 opening ceremony and the atmosphere was amazing. I felt so much a part of something.

“But I think it’s slowly been forgotten over the years. It’s all very well being a Paralympian, but they are elite athletes. Disabled people who aren’t Paralympians should also have the same opportunities to get involved in sport.

“I really want to encourage others to feel they can do something and not be scared of trying something new – you will find something that works for you.”

Scope’s Mark Hodgkinson added: “By launching Make it Count, we want to create a movement of movers – we want to inspire people to set themselves an active challenge, raise vital funds for Scope and celebrate inclusivity in sport.

“It could be five minutes; it could be 500. Whatever you do to get moving, we are asking people to make it count.

“Our research shows that disabled people want to get active and are raring to go but too often they face barriers.

“As we move out of lockdown, we must not waste this opportunity to improve attitudes, improve our gyms and sports centres and get more disabled people involved in sport.

“Our Make it Count fundraiser will take place during the most important Paralympics ever for disability equality.

“The Paralympics are a time when there is global interest in disability sport, but we know that exclusion from physical activity is still an everyday reality for too many disabled people.

“The Paralympics only run for two weeks, but Scope wants sport to be accessible to everyone all year round.”

All minutes clocked will feed into a totaliser in order to highlight the collective efforts of those taking part in a celebration of inclusive sport.

To find out more about Make it Count, click here.