On Your Marks…!

Disabled people in Scotland still do not have the same opportunities to take part in sports that other Scots enjoy.

On Monday 17th March, a pop-up think tank, part of the Solutions Series hosted by the Independent Living in Scotland project, looked at the barriers facing disabled people and try to find the solutions to them.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who sits in the House of Lords as a Crossbench peer and who won 11 Paralympic Gold medals during her long sporting career, led the discussion at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in the East End of Glasgow. Experts from Glasgow 2014, Scottish Disability Sport, the Scottish Government, Universities in the UK and Canada and disabled activists and sports people joined the think tank.

I joined the pop-up think tank as the disabled sports columnist for the Evening Times as I currently have a ParaSports column as we look towards Glasgow 2014. I was also joined by my colleagues, Professor Gayle McPherson and Professor David McGillirvay from the University of the West of Scotland.

Sport and exercise are essential for a healthy lifestyle and encouraging Scots to take part in more sport will be an important legacy of the Glasgow 2014 Games. Yet, whilst many local sports centres are more accessible than ever before, a lack of understanding of the specific needs that disabled people have, and lower expectations of what they can and want to do is preventing many disabled Scots from taking part in sport in their communities. As well as the negative effects on their health, and the costs to services in addressing this, their lack of participation can lead to isolation and undermine otherwise inclusive and resilient communities – it also means that sports facilities and communities are losing out on the money and talent that disabled people could bring.

Heather Fisken, project manager for Independent Living in Scotland said “This is an important year for Scotland and sport. While things have improved, disabled people’s access to sports is still lagging behind. It’s not all about being a paralympian or about specialist provision; many disabled people just want to access their local league or go to a class, but unsurprisingly they have grown to expect that they won’t have their needs met. We need to bring the experts together and find the solutions to this, and act on them.”

Minister for Sport and Commonwealth Games, Shona Robison said, “There should be no barriers to sport – everyone should be able to take part, whoever they are and whatever their situation.’Our success as a nation depends on building a society where barriers are removed and the people of Scotland can fulfil their potential. I welcome Independent Living in Scotland’s event which will raise and promote wider awareness of disability issues through the Solution Series.”

“There is much to be done but we are moving in the right direction, Glasgow 2014 will host the highest-ever number of Para-Sport medal events in Commonwealth Games history and the Games will be a valuable opportunity to change societal perceptions and awareness about equality.”