Each month ConnectSport works with the Sport for Development Coalition to create a 'call for articles'. Throughout June 2019 we will be asking ‘How do we make disabled people’s inclusion the norm in sport? and here Martin Symcox, CEO of Metro Blind Sport, talks about the charity’s work. To submit your article, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and join us on Monday, June 24 (8-9pm) when Access Sport are the special guests for our next Twitter takeover.
Metro Blind Sport is a registered charity which delivers positive, life-changing outcomes through the creation of sporting and physical activity opportunities, to individuals with a visual impairment in London. Our ambition is to give every individual with a visual impairment the chance to play sport and be physically active.
Being blind or partially sighted should not limit a person's access to sport and physical activity. Our recent survey (due to be published in July 2019) demonstrates that Metro Blind Sport members are extremely active when good, quality provision is made available. Simple changes can be made to increase participation of the blind and partially sighted community and these changes do not have to break the bank. Simple changes to how activities are advertised, basic visual awareness training for frontline staff, changes to session times and increased access to opportunities, could and would increase participation of blind and partially-sighted people in sport and physical activity.
The landscape is changing, since Metro Blind Sport was formed most blind and partially-sighted children now attend mainstream schools. Physical activity starts at school and therefore we must ensure that inclusive provision is available. Often PE and other teachers do not have any experience of visually impaired sport or recreation, and therefore getting the information to the children and the teachers is crucial. With an estimated 25,000 children with a visual impairment, it is crucial that sport and physical activity provision is available and known about outside the school setting.
In order to make sport and physical activity inclusive, we need to ensure that activities are available as close to home as possible as travel is often a barrier to participation for blind and partially sighted individuals. According to the Leisure Database Company’s 2018 State of The Fitness Industry Report, 84% of people in the UK live within two miles of a leisure facility yet 66% of our members surveyed travel more than five miles to take part in sporting activities. Three quarters of our members claim they would participate in more sport if they could access activities 'closer to home'. This was mirrored by 59% of non-members surveyed.
Travel distance is not the only barrier to entry. Other factors such as ‘activity timings’, and ‘poor venue location’ affect blind and partially sighted activity alongside ‘nobody to go with’ and ‘sessions that do not cater for people with a visual impairment’.
What is encouraging is that when we asked which activities members and non-members would like to get involved with, the top three responses in both groups were: cycling, swimming and the gym. According to the State of The Fitness Industry Report, there are 2,708 public leisure facilities in the UK all with the facilities in place to offer these services.
So, if the facilities are already available to service this demand, and research by the RNIB reports that 64% of people with a visual impairment would like to be more physically active, why are more people with a visual impairment not taking advantage? This is an area of work that Metro Blind Sport intends to focus on, working in close collaboration with leisure centre operators and trade organisations such as ukactive and Activity Alliance over the coming months.
Organisations in the sight loss and physical activity sectors must collaborate and share information and best practice to bring about change. Metro Blind Sport will use our research to educate the wider sector, alongside partners, on changes that need to be made to support blind and partially-sighted people to take part in sport and physical activity.