Physical activities for disabled children

Sport England says that only one in 10 of over-16s with a disability are doing more than 90 minutes’ physical activity each week. Crispin Andrews investigates three projects trying to increase disabled young people’s involvement in sport and physical activity


Survey figures in Nottinghamshire show the number of active people is well above the national average. A council strategy of supporting key individuals and groups to deliver activity has led to 11.3% of people over 16 with a limiting disability taking part in three or more 30-minute sessions of physical activity a week.

“There is only so much a local authority can do itself,” says Rebecca Black, the council’s principal officer (sport and disability). “But through empowering others and co-ordinating their work, much more high quality opportunity can be provided.”

In Nottinghamshire, 66 sports clubs – many of which have had disability awareness training, coaching courses and club development seminars organised by the council’s sports disability unit – now promote activities for disabled people. The council’s awareness participation opportunity and coaching (Apoc) scheme has generated a groundswell of interest among local disabled people. After going on a three-week coaching course, enthusiastic participants can then be pointed in the direction of a club that has the expertise to take them on.

“We try to fit in with day centre and school timetables so transport is not a barrier to the youngsters attending,” says Black.

Often it is a case of finding a way of funding activity outside the core budget. A successful Awards for All application has resulted in 67 local gymnastics coaches receiving disability awareness training and mentoring. And the Learning Skills Council and the European Social Fund funds the Nottinghamshire Sport Direct project, which aims to increase the skills and employability of disabled people through sports coach education and development. Funding through the Community Sports Coach Scheme, Youth Sport Trust, Nottinghamshire Disability Football Focus Group, England Athletics and the Nottinghamshire Table Tennis Association means that disability sport performance pathway coach Richard Whitehead can work on developing talent in the county.

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“Through investing in key deliverers Nottinghamshire Council has given young disabled people the opportunity to access high quality coaching opportunities, while also identifying many gifted and talented disabled performers,” says Mark Boterill, manager – special schools and Inclusion, Youth Sport Trust,


In Birmingham, participation rates among over-16s with a limiting disability are as low as 6.6%. Yet at Wilson Stuart School and Sports College in Erdington, Birmingham, a school for physically disabled children aged two to 19, 85% of pupils take part in out-of-school-hours physical activity.

“Establishing opportunities in the community is a major priority for us,” says Wilson Stuart’s director of specialism Simon Harris. “As a sports college with an outreach role we have funding to set up, support and sustain activity where none currently exists.”

Zone hockey – an adapted version of the sport that sees participants operating in specific parts of the field – is now played at Sutton Coldfield Hockey Club. “We looked at the most popular sports from our after-school multi-sports sessions and then sought out external partners with whom we could set up opportunities for people to play outside of school,” explains Harris. “In the initial stages we hired the club’s ground, bought equipment and paid for a few club coaches to take zone hockey coaching qualifications. Gradually more people from the club got involved and now they are running zone hockey for youngsters and adults themselves.”

Amir Ali plays and coaches at the club. The ex-Wilson Stuart student sees being in a wheelchair as no barrier to being a good coach. “I’ve got a brain and a mouth on me and am able to get things across to the youngsters in a way they can understand,” he says. “Through coaching I am able to use my skills to help the kids improve themselves and enjoy some of the experiences I have had as a player.”

A similar arrangement is being planned with Bourneville Hockey Club and both West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa now have wheelchair football teams. A wheelchair basketball club linked to Wolverhampton Rhinos is also up and running at the school. These clubs provide opportunities for youngsters from all over the city and Harris is encouraging the local golf club, Aston Wood, to open its doors to disabled people.

However, Harris says that opportunities need to be extended beyond what his and other sports colleges in the city are setting up. “It’s much more than just getting a few ramps put in leisure centres,” he insists. “We need more awareness from deliverers about how to put on the activities disabled people want to take part in.”

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Not everyone is lucky enough to have a school with the drive of Wilson Stuart on their doorstep. Andy Brittles, community manager for the English Federation of Disability Sport, says: “Sports clubs and other providers need support to recruit disabled participants. We are developing advice explaining exactly what a high quality disability sports club should look like.”

➔ See for more on the federation.


At Woodside Sports College, Belvedere, Kent – a special school for four to 16-year-olds with moderate learning disabilities – an innovative dance project is helping young people with special educational needs to participate in physical activity alongside their able-bodied peers.

“Working with mainstream schools makes it possible for our youngsters to be involved in large-scale projects that with limited numbers it is not possible for us to put on alone,” says Woodside’s director of specialism Jody Specht. “A similar strategy might be worth following where opportunities are scarce in the community.”

Groups of children from five local secondary schools came up with a routine based around one particular aspect of growing up. Dances based around birth, nursery school, bullying, even drug abuse were put together, as the young people’s creativity, not to mention their organisational skills and ability to co-operate, were put to the test. Woodside’s young people came up with a dance based around some of the playground games they had enjoyed at primary school, while at St Mary’s and St Joseph’s Catholic School, a more advanced routine that reflected the isolation of a victim of bullying was developed. At the end of the project all the schools came together as one, adapting their routines to enter the Rock Challenge, a national dance competition.

Specht says: “The project has helped the young people realise that despite limitations and given realistic goals, they too can achieve. Succeeding alongside able-bodied peers has given their confidence and self-esteem a tremendous boost.”

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Anne Craddock, disability sport/PE consultant says: “Where disabled and non-disabled people take part alongside each other mutual respect and understanding can be generated. Disabled people also get the health-related benefits of not having to travel 50 miles or so to take part in specialist disability activity – something that not everyone is prepared to do.”


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