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A comparison of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveys conducted in 2003 and 2009 do not show much change in the participation rate for persons with a disability. The overall participation rate in sport among adults (i.e. persons age 15 years and older) with a disability was 25% in 2003 and 24% in 2009. This compares to an overall participation rate among able bodied adults of 64%. Within the able bodied population the participation rate in sport is greatest at ages 15-17 years (74%) and declines with age to 48% for people over the age of 65 years. Although specific statistics are not available across all age groups for persons with disability, a similar trend of declining participation with age exists.

Comparative figures from the General Social Survey conducted by the ABS estimates that people with disability are 15% less likely to participate in sport and active recreation than the general population. It is reasonable to assume that this under-representation in sport participation among persons with disability exists and is due to disadvantages or barriers encountered.

AusPlay survey

The AusPlay Survey (AusPlay) also provides information relating to participation in sport and physical activity by people who have a disability of physical condition that restricts their life in some way. From late 2015, AusPlay became the single-source data currency for government and the sport sector that not only tracks Australian sport participation behaviours but also informs investment, policy, and sport delivery by National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) and the sports network. It is a large scale national population tracking survey funded and led by Sport Australia that aims to track the sporting behaviours and activities of the Australian population. Although AusPlay includes some similar questions to the ABS and other surveys (e.g. In the last 12 months did you participate in any physical activities for sport, for exercise, or for recreation?), the methodology is different and it should therefore be treated as a new time series.

AusPlay data indicates that a total of 77.8% (78.6% male; 77% female) of people surveyed who have a disability or physical condition that restricts their life in some way participated in sport of physical activity at least once in the previous 12 months. 68.9% (68.5% male; 69.3% female) participated at least once per week, and 51.9% (52.8% male; 51.1% female) participated at least three times per week. These figures were significantly lower than for those people surveyed who did not have a disability or physical condition that restricts their life in some way: At least once per year (total: 90.7%; male: 90.6%; female: 90.7%); at least once per week (total: 83.3%; male: 81.8%; female: 84.8%); at least three times per week (total: 63.7%; male: 61.6%; female: 66.1%). It is also interesting to note that for those without disability women are actually more likely to participate regularly, however, for those with disability men are slightly more active than women on an annual and minimum three times per week basis. [source: AusPlay survey results July 2016-June 2017, Australian Sports Commission, (released 16 November 2017).]

Barriers to participation

The social and cultural benefits of participating in sport and active recreation were reported by all disability types as being the most important benefits derived.

A number of reports recommend that matching the type of disability to the level of support needed is a critical factor influencing either participation or non-participation patterns. People with high support needs face additional constraints that serve as barriers to participation.

Individuals surveyed did not necessarily regard their impairment as the major reason for their non-participation. Non-participants across a number of disability types expressed a desire to participate, particularly as a means of social interaction; but identified other constraints such as cost, transportation, venue access, and supervision.

Nearly 75% of those currently participating would like to participate more, but also identified the same constraints as non-participants. Generally, persons with a disability would like to see better access to information about local sport and active recreation opportunities.

Cost is often seen to be a major factor in many different ways, including its effect on participants in terms of transport and equipment, and on the disability organisation in terms of registration fees and the extra costs associated with providing services.

  • Enabling inclusive sport participation: Effects of disability and support needs on constraints to sport participation, Darcy S, Lock D and Taylor T, Leisure Sciences, Volume 39, Issue 1 (2017). Despite enabling legislation, studies in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have found that persons with disability participate in sport at lower rates than the general population. This paper presents the results of a national study examining the constraints to sport participation for people with disability. Liaising with over 100 disability organisations from across Australia; a total of 1046 surveys were completed – 53% from persons with disability and 47% from family/friends. Respondents engaged in 125 different sport and active recreation activities; with 50% of participation from organised sports, 32% from unorganised and 18% from partially organised activities. The findings showed that disability type and level of support needs explain significant variations in constraints to participation. The level of support needs was the most significant indicator of the likelihood of participation or non-participation.
  • Perceived barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for children with disability: a qualitative study, Nora Shields & Anneliese Synnot, BMC Pediatrics, (published online 19 January 2016). Children with disability engage in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers. The aim of this research was to explore the barriers and facilitators to participation in physical activity for this group. Four themes were identified: (1) similarities and differences, (2) people make the difference, (3) one size does not fit all, and (4) communication and connections. Children with disability were thought to face additional barriers to participation compared to children with typical development including a lack of instructor skills and unwillingness to be inclusive, negative societal attitudes towards disability, and a lack of local opportunities.
  • Participation and non-participation of people with disability in sport and active recreationAustralian Sports Commission/University of Technology, Sydney (2011). This report presents the findings of a collaborative research project that used a combination of surveys and focus group interactions to collect data. The study looked at perceptions of health, fitness, and general wellbeing benefits received through sports participation. Disability groups included persons having physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and health related disabilities. A number of key findings from this research are presented in the report.

Australian observations support a large collection of international research identifying factors that present barriers to participation. Generally, the research suggests that when barriers are reduced persons with a disability, who are able to engage in sports, are much more likely to experience improved health and better social connectivity with their community than those not engaged.

  • Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review, Jaarsma E, Dijkstra P, Geertzen J and Dekker R, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sport, Volume 24, Issue 6 (2014). Too few people with physical disabilities regularly participate in sports. Therefore, understanding what presents a barrier to participation, as well as what factors facilitate participation, should be helpful to program planners. This study provides an overview of the literature focusing on barriers to, and facilitators of, sports participation for people with various physical disabilities. The most common barrier was health status (personal factor); and lack of facilities, transportation, accessibility of facilities (environmental factors). Facilitating factors were fun, improved health and social contacts. Experiencing barriers to, and facilitators of, sports participation was dependent on age and type of disability. Regular sports participation was greatest when the selection of the sport was appropriate.
  • Overcoming barriers to participationBritish Blind Sport (2015). Sport and recreational activities can enhance the lives of people with visual impairments by improving their health and increasing social interaction. British Blind Sport conducted a survey to understand how blind and partially sighted people overcome barriers to participation in sport, and to understand the motivations of visually impaired people for taking up sport. Telephone interviews and focus groups were used to collect data. This report identifies a number of motivations as well as barriers. Practical solutions are offered to help visually impaired persons, and organisations providing services to them, overcome the barriers. Case studies are also provided.

Inclusive sport - good practice models and tools

  • Examining the participation patterns of an ageing population with disabilities in Australia, Sotiriadoua P and Wickera P, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2014). The purpose of this study is to fill this gap in the literature and examine the participation patterns of people with disabilities. This study advances the following three research questions: (1) what are the participation patterns of people with disabilities? (2) what factors constrain participation in physical activity by people with disabilities? and (3) what groups can participants and non-participants with disabilities be classified into?. The results indicate that 57.2% of the persons with disabilities participated in some form of physical activity at least once per week and 39.1% three times or more per week. The top five activities were walking, followed by swimming gymnasium workouts, cycling, aerobics exercises. The variables ‘restriction’ and ‘work hours’ had a negative impact on frequency of participation, while education had a positive impact. Once people made the decision to participate in physical activity, they participate quite frequently. The top five activities that were identified in the survey are all health and fitness related. With regard to constraints, it became evident that ‘intrapersonal’ and ‘structural’ constraints were the dominant ones. The identified constraints of the ageing population in Australia need to be considered in ways that would allow pathways (i.e., sport development outputs) for people with disabilities, both participants and non-participants, to progress from one level of sport development to another. Finally, the implications for programs and policy considerations must be cost effective, suitable to people's constraints, and sustainable over long periods of time. These pathways may vary from sport to sport (e.g., individual vs. team sports, high to low physically demanding sports, etc.).
  • Getting Involved in Sport: A report about people with disability taking part in sportAustralian Sports Commission (2012). Over 1000 persons were surveyed during 2010-11 to determine their thoughts on sport for persons with disability. Key findings from this survey include: (1) taking part in community activities and interacting with other people are important motivations to participate in sport; (2) sport promoted a sense of achievement and self-esteem; (3) sport provided a simulating environment that promoted positive health outcomes, and; (4) sport was fun. The survey found that ‘disability’ was not the main reason for non-participation in sport. Cost factors; such as transport requirements, support personnel (when required), and club fees appear to be a major barrier to participation. 75% of people with disability (who already play sport) want to play more; this should give sporting organisations good reason to make their programs and venues more inclusive.
  • A Way With Words: guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability, Nican. “The way in which we speak and write about people with a disability is more than a cosmetic issue. Language is a powerful tool which can be used to change stereotypes and attitudes..." The time for portraying the experience of people with a disability as sensational and abnormal is over.”
  • Go Club inclusion and our clubs : review of Swimming Australia's Go Club PB inclusion checklist 2009-2011 (2011). Swimming Australia inclusion strategies represent an opportunity for club development. The inclusion checklist is a resource for swim clubs but also an important research tool for Swimming Australia Ltd (SAL) to assist in the area of club development for better inclusion of people with a disability. This report quantifies specific aspects of inclusive practice relating to demographics, accessibility, community, activities and communication by the participating swimming clubs.
  • Know before you go : a toolkit for people with disability and recreation service providersNican/ACT Government, (2011). This resource was developed by Nican to help providers and people with disability alike. It includes a checklist for inclusive events covering issues ranging from accessible parking to inclusive communications. Section 3 provides information about barriers to participation by disabled persons and contains an audit tool for providers.
  • Making inclusion easy, Phillips, S, Sports Coach, Volume 31, Issue 1 (2010). Gymnastics Australia and the Australian Football League (AFL) have dismissed any notion that promoting a culture of inclusion in sport is difficult.
  • Managing disability sport: from athletes with disabilities to inclusive organisational perspectives, Misener L, Sport Management Review, Volume 17, Issue 1 (2014). What has become evident is that managing disability sport also has implications for managing sport generally. People with disability are part of the sporting family and need to be considered across all organisational aspects, not just a historical focus on disability. While diversity management in sport more broadly has championed the inclusion of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and religious issues across the sporting family, this has not been the case with people with disability. Organisations need to consider people with a disability as employees, volunteers, coaches, and as members or spectators depending on the sporting endeavour. This article contains a collection of papers focusing on management issues that centre on constraints to sport participation, supply side attributes, participant behaviours, consumption of disability sport, policy implementation, and sponsor congruence.
  • People with Disability resources. Play by the Rules, (accessed November 2017). Being inclusive is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings. Sometimes this may mean modifying a sport to provide a more appropriate version for particular participants.
    • Disability Inclusion Interactive Scenario. The following scenario explores issues that can arise when including a child with disability in sport. As you read through the material think about what you would do in this situation.
    • 7 Pillars of Inclusion. The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is a broad framework to give your sport or recreation club a starting point to address inclusion and diversity. It's a framework that has been adopted by a number of national and state sports organisations but could equally be applied to your local club. A practical way to use the 7 Pillars is to get together with the key decision makers of your organisation and work through each Pillar and assess where your organisation fits.
    • Disability discrimination fact sheetPlay by the Rules, (December 2016). Disability discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities, as others in the same or a similar situation, because they have a disability. There are both federal laws and state/territory laws that make disability discrimination unlawful.

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