Disability charity Activity Alliance is urging decision makers in sport and leisure to prioritise disabled people as they strive to recover from the pandemic.
Publishing the findings of its annual Disability and Activity Survey, the organisation said it is “seriously concerned” about the potential long-term damage on the nation’s least active.
The research shows that twice as many disabled people felt that coronavirus greatly reduced their ability to do sport or physical activity compared to non-disabled people.
Activity Alliance exists to reduce the fairness gap between disabled and non-disabled people’s activity levels. Prior to the pandemic, the gap was starting to close, according to the charity, with more disabled people recorded being active than ever before.
But the survey concludes that the pandemic is now not only “widening existing inequalities” for disabled people, but creating new ones too.
It revealed 44% of disabled people feel they do not have the opportunity to be as active as they want to, compared to 29% of non-disabled people. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of disabled people say they have not received enough information about how to be active during the pandemic, compared with just 13% of non-disabled people.
Respondents also said the lack of activity has led to both their physical and mental health being harder to manage. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation were frequently voiced.
Commenting on the research, Activity Alliance CEO Barry Horne said: “The benefits of being active are clear. It matters for everyone’s physical and mental health and has enormous impact on our daily lives. So, it is never acceptable that disabled people should not reap these benefits too.
“We appreciate we have a national crisis on our hands and leaders need to make tough decisions in sport and leisure. But we have not heard near enough about the impact on disabled people’s lives during the pandemic. No disabled person should ever feel forgotten or overlooked in the communities we all serve.
“That’s why this insight is so important. We have listened to disabled people and urge decision makers to do the same, and act swiftly upon the findings. If we do not act now, we will witness inequalities widen even further, or unthinkably they may become irreversible.”
The Annual Survey follows Sport England launching its 10-year strategy, Uniting the Movement, which highlights their ambition to tackle inequalities, especially for inactive people. It pinpoints the need to invest in those who need it the most, with fairness and equity at the heart.
Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive at Sport England said: “This past year has highlighted the challenges we face in making sure sport and physical activity is a normal part of life – for everyone.
“We take our responsibility in tackling these inequalities and supporting organisations like Activity Alliance extremely seriously and working to remove barriers and make activity more accessible for disabled people underpins our new strategy.
“It is important that everyone is able to feel the benefits of being active, which can help unlock the door to a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life.”