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ukactive’s Everyone Can Report Reveals What Disabled People Want From The Fitness And Leisure Sector

A Woman Holding Ropes Beside a Trainer

ukactive has released the latest consumer report as part of Everyone Can, which is designed to improve inclusion in the fitness and leisure sector, providing insight based on the sector’s most comprehensive survey of disabled people to date.

One in five people in the UK are disabled, and 81% of disabled adults have indicated that they want to do more physical activity, the Everyone Can report provides an opportunity to improve millions of lives. 

It also supports gyms and leisure centres with a huge commercial opportunity, as the economic value of the ‘purple pound’ is £249bn per year.

ukactive commissioned a consumer poll with Savanta which asked more than 1,500 disabled people about their experiences of gyms, swimming pools, fitness and leisure centres.

The survey forms the latest evidence presented in a wide-ranging report which brings together ukactive’s research on the issue, including focus groups and consumer consultations.

The report tackles themes of representation, perceptions, customer service, and accessibility while drawing on best practice case studies, including the Swimming Teachers’ Association, The Gym Group, and Sport for Confidence, to offer practical solutions.

The polling identified a number of concerns and key influencing factors for disabled people to access fitness and leisure facilities, as well as finding differing views between those that already use facilities and those that do not. 

Key findings and recommendations:

  • 50% of gym users agreed ‘most centres provide a good range of equipment that I can use’, while only 28% of non-users agreed. Communication should be utilised in the digital space to improve accessibility and combat perceived barriers, including online virtual tours. 
  • One-in-five respondents said that staff offering assistance or practical support would encourage them to attend the facility more often. The report recommends taster sessions and regular check-ins following inductions.
  • 35% feel too self-conscious to ask for extra information and support from gym, fitness and leisure centre staff. Customer service should be a focus, offering support which extends from initial induction. 
  • A fifth of survey respondents either feel worried they would be the only one with a disability or feel they did not see many other individuals with a disability in the facility. Everyone Can recommends improved representation in marketing imagery and the workforce. 

    The Gym Group’s Inclusive Traineeship is a shining example of this – supporting disabled people to get a qualification in fitness and physical activity, and the EmployAbility programme, supporting the leisure industry to get more disabled people in employment.

Everyone Can is an ongoing agenda led by ukactive and supported by Sport England to set a collaborative tone for inclusivity and accessibility across the sector – and has already involved more than 40 leading organisations and a cross-sector Everyone Can Task Force to lead the work.

The agenda seeks to raise awareness of disability inclusion and support gyms, and fitness and leisure facilities to make continuous improvements to the provision of services for disabled people so that the benefits of physical activity can be realised by all. 

The report follows the publication of the Health and Disability White Paper, announced by the Chancellor in the Budget, that sets out the ambition for more disabled people, and people with health conditions, to live more independent and fulfilling lives. 

As well as supporting more of the general population to access physical activity with confidence, the sector has a vital role in helping many disabled people to manage long-term health conditions and also provides prehabilitation and rehabilitation services which help ease the pressure on the NHS.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “It is vital that we listen to the voices of disabled people and that is why this report has the potential to transform inclusion in the fitness and leisure sector.

“By really considering the modern-day needs and following the great examples across the sector, our members can help millions more disabled people across the UK to be active in the way they choose.

“Not only that, but we can open up pathways for disabled people to get into employment in the fitness and leisure sector, and all of this will help to grow the sector and our opportunities to support the health of the nation.” 

Helene Raynsford, Paralympic Rowing Champion, public health and sport consultant, and Sport England Board Member, said: “The work of ukactive and Everyone Can continues to be of critical importance in both listening to and acting on the views of disabled people – both those currently engaged and not engaged in physical activity.

“While it is always positive to see examples of great practice from those operating in the fitness and leisure sector, collectively there is still work to do in ensuring that all disabled people feel like physical activity settings are welcoming and serving their needs, especially when so many are facing financial challenge.

“The recommendations identified within the Everyone Can report presenting a positive opportunity for organisations and operators to take stock of their services, as well as consider what more can be done to help more disabled people live active, happier, healthier lives.”

Adam Blaze, Chief Executive Officer at Activity Alliance, said: “We welcome this new insight into disabled people’s experiences and views for gyms and leisure centres. 

”These local facilities are vital for so many disabled people living in all our communities. They are a fundamental part of our communities and any health improvement strategies.

Time and time again, disabled people tell us through our own research that having somewhere nearby to go to is important to enjoy an active lifestyle.

“It’s been a challenging time for the sector, while disabled people have been most impacted by the pandemic. We will continue to support providers as much as we can, in raising awareness of their societal value. 

“Our team is keen to help facilities with our resources and showcase the fantastic best practice happening across the country. But this is also a critical time to rethink and review old approaches and build on successful examples.

We look forward to working with partners, like ukactive, to ensure many more disabled people feel welcome and included in our local facilities.”

To read the full findings and recommendations, click here to sign up to receive a copy of the Everyone Can reportfree of charge.