“Some people have a mental health condition they aren’t comfortable talking about,” says Dawn Hughes, national partnerships advisor for Activity Alliance, which has been supporting sport and leisure facilities to be more welcoming and accessible to disabled people for more than 10 years through its Inclusive Fitness Initiative ‘IFI Mark’ scheme.”
“Many more people classify their disability as simply ‘getting old’. So it’s likely the number that actually declare themselves as having a disability massively underestimates the true figures.
“What’s more, we know that seven in ten disabled people want to be more active, but feel facilities aren’t doing enough to highlight what’s on offer for them.”
Access all areas
“But being equipped to deliver inclusive services isn’t just about the equipment, and employing a diverse workforce doesn’t guarantee your staff are fully prepared to meet and greet disabled guests or that they know how to engage with them.
“Only 5 per cent of people choose the word ‘confident’ as a top three term to describe how they feel when they meet a disabled person,” says Hughes. “It’s not that surprising, as many won’t knowingly have had day-to-day contact with anyone that has a disability or life-limiting illness.”
“Kevin Wright is manager of [EN]GAGE, Edinburgh Napier University’s sports and fitness facilities, which undertook IFI Mark accreditation as part of its Quest assessment, achieving the Excellent banding in the IFI module. His aim is to ensure their facilities are accessible in the broadest sense of the word, whether from an illness, disability or gender point of view.
Wright believes the answer lies in talking to people rather than making assumptions about what a person can and cannot do. “Treat them as you would anyone else, with dignity and respect. Don’t wrap them in cotton wool or walk on eggshells as they’ll see you’re uncomfortable. When we ask our customers what’s the best thing about [EN]GAGE they consistently say it’s the staff, because they don’t assume, they talk to them.”