Throughout March, we supported the Who Says campaign. This is a campaign lead by the Activity Alliance to challenge negative perceptions of physical activity for young people living with disabilities. The campaign kicked off back in 2019 providing positive stories, resources and guidance to replace negative perceptions. The return of this campaign is no different. This year, for phase two, the campaign has four new perceptions to challenge:
- Young disabled people should sit out of PE lessons
- Disabled people can’t be leaders
- Disabled children can’t grow up to be active adults
- Families can’t be active together
Here in Gloucestershire, we wanted to showcase some of the local providers of physical activity who champion inclusion from the core. We spoke to these organisations who already challenge negative perceptions surrounding physical activity for young people living with disabilities to learn more about what they do, and how we can continue to provide more positive experiences of inclusive and accessible active opportunities across the county.
The leaders of BEAM! Gymnastics, a group based in Cirencester who support children with additional emotional, physical, behavioural and sensory challenges, expressed the importance of acknowledging that every child is different. The children at the sessions are given their own programme designed for their specific needs and ability, that with the support of the BEAM! coaches and volunteers, help them to accomplish their ‘I can’ moments.
Richard, a volunteer with the BEAM! team, spoke about the sense of worth, enjoyment, and opportunity to help others he has experienced as a member of the coaching team. He spoke about his experiences trying to source inclusive activities previously but was either met with resistance from coaches about supporting his needs, or faced having to travel out of the county to access something that 1. He would enjoy, and 2. Would be suitable for him. Now as a volunteer with BEAM!, he is helping to support young people to access physical activity that is fun, local and inclusive, all whilst gaining valuable leadership experience in a safe environment.
Accessible Yoga with Sarah, a Cheltenham based yoga teacher who’s priority has been inclusion and accessibility from the outset spoke about their desire to change the view of yoga from ‘handstands on beaches’ to simply an opportunity for people to connect with their bodies and mind, and create a community. Sarah spoke about the importance of adapting a pose to fit your body, not making your body fit a pose; highlighting the need for adaption, not just in yoga, but across sport and physical activity as a whole. Adaptions through props, environments and many other changes can support the journey from inactivity to activity for all. By providing chair yoga sessions on a weekly basis, Sarah proves that small changes can make huge difference for people to access inclusive active opportunities.
As well as talking to local activity providers across Gloucestershire, we have been supporting the next generation of PE teachers at the University of Gloucestershire to learn about the importance of inclusion. To specifically challenge the perception that ‘young disabled people should sit out of PE lessons’, I encouraged the PE students to think about how various adaptions could be viewed under the models of disability, then opened up the floor to any questions the students might have. This lead to a number of incredibly valuable discussions, one of which being about how teachers can open up the conversation with pupils to understand how they can support the individual’s needs.
Providing a nurturing environment for the university students to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and ask questions they fear might be ‘silly’ really helped to break down the stigma around talking openly about disability and how the students can continue to challenge perceptions of physical activity for disabled people, in school sport and beyond.
Who Says is a campaign to encourage negative perceptions of physical activity for young disabled people to be challenged, but I feel it is also an opportunity to reflect and grow. Grow in strength against these negative perceptions, but also grow as a provision. To provide more, and better inclusive active opportunities for young people that are fun, accessible, safe and that support disabled children to grow up to be active adults.
For more information about BEAM! Gymnastics, please follow the following link to their website: beamgymnastics.co.uk
For more information about Accessible Yoga with Sarah, please follow the following link to their website: accessibleyogawithsarah.com