Leisure activities are an important part of our social lives, and provide the opportunity to engage in a wider community. This is particularly important for many people with disabilities, who may struggle with issues surrounding social isolation. For people with both learning and physical disabilities, playing sports, going to restaurants and cafes, or visiting theme parks, museums and cinemas provides the opportunity for enhanced social interaction and a richer life. These activities allow people with disabilities to build friendships, and improve mental and physical health, their well-being and confidence. They also work to improve social attitudes to disability and challenge negative perceptions of people with disabilities.
Despite the obvious common sense of all of these arguments, people in the UK with learning and physical disabilities still face a frustrating range of barriers which prevent them from participating in leisure activities. People with disabilities are less than half as likely to engage in most leisure activities as their able-bodied peers.
Why, oh why?
There are a number of reasons for this. Inaccessible venues and facilities still come top of most lists, closely followed by lack of appropriate equipment and a dearth of appropriately trained staff. Cost is also a huge issue. Someone with a disability may well find certain leisure activities prohibitively expensive, particularly with the additional costs of specialised transport services and support workers. In addition, activities for people with disabilities are often curtailed if they require a support worker, and that support worker’s shift is ending.
So what exactly can be done? Not just in gyms and swimming pools, but in theme parks, restaurants, cinemas, galleries and museums, to ensure the widest possible access? Sports facilities need to be fitted with accessible changing rooms and all leisure facilities need adequate disability parking, easy to read signs or colour contrast markings on steps. Mandatory equality training for staff is also vital.
There also needs to be a national review of pricing policies for people with disabilities and any potential carers, and advice sought from disabled people and disability groups to ensure greater access to the UK’s leisure industry. This isn’t just an equality issue, it is also an economic one. People with disabilities represent a huge untapped market, estimated at 200 billion pounds per year, and at the moment it is being ignored.