This week Kevin Yates, Head of Fitness, Marketing & Communications at Leisure Connection discusses - Letís maintain momentum for disabled people - inclusivity is the key.
Heightened media exposure and an overall sense of pride for our Paralympic Athletes resulted in venues in the UK upping their game and introducing practical solutions to make their offering more inclusive. But, with the Olympics and Paralympics as a distant memory, operators should be wary of repeating mistakes of the past and falling flat when it comes to providing an inclusive offering for all.
Operators need to stop thinking that inclusive facilities means big yellow lines around their floor and that they only need to invest more into equipment and the IFI accreditation. This is the wrong approach - disabled people don't want to be treated differently, they want to feel included.
We need to alter our approach and offer more facilities, events and initiatives that disabled and able-bodied people can enjoy together - for example at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, together with the national charity for wheelchair sport, WheelPower, Leisure Connection offers a variety of activities, facilities and equipment that can be utilised by everyone, regardless of their ability.
In fact, in a bid to ensure that our facilities are accessible to all we have invested a considerable amount of resource into training our teams at Stoke Mandeville Stadium and at our other centres up and down the country about providing activities for disabled people, resulting in a huge impact on usage and retention among this group of users.
I believe that it is the responsibility of venue and facility operators to deliver these activities into communities across the UK.
We have access and control over bespoke spaces such as sports halls, playing fields, tracks and pools - all of which are the perfect place for more disabled people to try new activities.
With over 11million disabled people in the UK and less than two in ten disabled people in England taking part in sport, now is the time to re-evaluate a facilities inclusive offering, we can't just expect people to use a couple of bits of equipment or make do with poorly considered facilities and activities.
We need to give users the freedom to try new sports and activities. We also need to look at how we encourage and cater for more disabled children Ė in short, it has never been more important for venue operators to consider the disabled user in its operation.
A key challenge for change will be ignorance by operators.
We need to work in partnership with disabled organisations, such as WheelPower, to find out what more we can do and get real guidance from these bodies as to how we can truly make our facilities operational for the disabled user.
New policy, equipment, initiatives and overall offering should be driven by the demands of the consumer and we as operators should work with disabled organisations to drive policy.
For Leisure Connection, an inclusive operation is about ensuring users feel included and want to come and use our venues - it's basically the same principle we use for all of our customers.