Around half of all children with disabilities face challenges participating in sport, a major new report has suggested.
More than a third of parents who took part in the study said that social stigma was one of the main obstacles to getting their child involved.
Another significant difficulty is the cost involved; over three quarters of Britain’s special needs schools say facilities are not adapted to meet the needs of disabled youngsters.
The research was commissioned by the children’s charity Variety, which has warned that children risk becoming socially isolated or having their confidence undermined by these barriers to participation. There are also concerns that it will fuel obesity.
Dr Miriam Stoppard, a well-known physician and author, said: “I believe every child, including those with disabilities, have the right to optimise their physical capabilities and through that their overall wellbeing.
“In addition, all children, even those with lower levels of fitness, have the right to join in recreational activities with other children and build teamwork and sociability. This isn’t always easy for children with disabilities who are more likely than others to be sedentary, making them more vulnerable to obesity and its attendant health hazards.
“The participation of children with disabilities in any physical activity can minimise the complications of immobility. Not only does it keep them physically and mentally fit, it also fosters independence, coping abilities and working with other team members.”
Her comments were echoed by Sarah Nancollas, Variety’s chief executive, who hoped that the latest research would raise awareness of the issue.
“Whether it’s kicking a ball with your friends or participating in competitive sports for your school, all children deserve to have the opportunity to take part in sports,” she said.
“Sadly, this isn’t the case for many children with disabilities. Whilst we were aware that many of these children faced barriers accessing sports, I am disappointed at how extensive this issue is.”
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