Disability Sport and Participation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2019.

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Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

I strongly agree: I was going to mention Brian Whittle’s speech. It is also important that we avoid labelling. I think that Brian Whittle is making that point.

It is clear from speeches by members across the chamber that we need a more inclusive programme throughout the country in order to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get involved. No one should be left behind.

We have heard about innovative organisations across the country. I echo what many members have said. Scottish Disability Sport does excellent work in ensuring that the philosophy of increased inclusion is translated into actions and practice. Sportscotland is doing sterling work in focusing on several areas of inclusion, including young people from the most disadvantaged areas, women and girls, and—particularly in the context of this debate—young people with disabilities.

A number of members have said that half of people who live in poverty have a disability or are in families with disabled members. It is no secret that poverty and inequality come with many health-restricting issues. Adding to them a lack of physical activity will only make that worse.

We heard from Alison Johnstone about an issue that sportscotland’s research shows. Once disabled people start to take part in sport and physical activity, they are as likely to take part frequently as people without disabilities are. It is clear that that is the first step into access, where there are barriers.

We have all talked about barriers. They can be social or personal, and physical accessibility has been touched on. Transport, poverty and lack of opportunity can frequently be barriers.

I am conscious of the time, so I will touch on only a couple more issues.

Brian Whittle said that sport in general, team working and avoiding labelling are key. I was struck by the issue of sport becoming a bastion of the middle classes, which he mentioned.

There are other issues. Barriers are created by rurality. I know about those from my Highlands and Islands region. Transport costs are a major factor.

Mary Fee mentioned the important issue of empowering people with disabilities, and said that role models should represent people from all backgrounds and of all abilities. She gave the pertinent example of the Riding for the Disabled Association. Riding provides therapy and mobility, and adds to confidence.

Alison Johnstone made the valid point that it is important to develop coaching and to develop people who have disabilities to be coaches. Obviously, we need to do more work in that area: it is certainly vital.

In conclusion, I say that physical activity and social prescribing are vital in helping to manage some disabilities.

We need to translate into action the obvious cross-party consensus for increased engagement in sport by people with disabilities. We need to increase physical and psychological provision and access in order to provide people who have disabilities with more opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity.

You would expect me to end with a quote, Presiding Officer, so, as Nelson Mandela said:

“Sport has the power to change the world ... Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”