The group for Disabled People working in Sport and Physical Activity: The story so far

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The purpose of this blog is to present and overview of where we have got to with a new group for disabled people working in Sport and Physical Activity with our allies.  I’m really excited by the start we have made to this and what we’re starting to develop.  I also want to acknowledge that the group is very much the sum of its parts, and this is just my take on it. 

Why this group?

For me, the origins of this group are rooted in a desire to see a greater prominence of the voices of disabled people who are working in sport and physical activity and our allies.  I had been talking to Lucy who is my chief partner in crime here about the need for and value of the group for a while…and eventually said we should do it ourselves and see what happened.

One of the things that surprises me was that such a group for disabled people working in sport and physical activity didn’t already exist.  I think at another level that just shows the work to be done and the value of it.  There are lots of immensely talented people out there who identify as having an impairment (and many who do not) and to be able to support each other and be together felt important and valuable.

Part of the desire for this group is situational.  The pandemic has been tough for me personally and tested my resilience at times.  My instinct is to always try and bring people together because we are stronger together, and to be able to do so in an inclusive way just felt like a good thing to do to try and support others, to hold a safe and inclusive space where we could just ‘be’ together and to work collectively to make a difference.

Now in Lucy’s words:

Lucy Moore

When I was 12 I told my mum I didn’t want to go to support studies at school anymore; I didn’t want to be associated with the SEN learning support assistant (sorry Julie). 

When I was 16/17 I chose not to go to the appointment to secure myself extra time in my a-levels; because those extra minutes weren’t worth the shame (I went for cheesy chips instead). 

When I was 32 I started a new job and said I didn’t need any adjustments; because I didn’t want my employer to think I couldn’t do my job well. 

And now, with my 40s glimmering on the horizon, using the word disabled to describe myself makes me feel like a complete fake. I rarely speak openly about having an impairment (I think due to a combination of internalised ableism and fear) and frankly I don’t want to be considered different or even worse “diverse”". 

So honestly the idea of starting a group for disabled people working in sport, as me, not work Lucy, mask off, made me feel a bit sick. Thanks Chris! 

But what can I say, it has been amazing. 

The people in the group whether disabled professionals or allies working in the sector are all so brilliant. The feeling in the sessions: the passion, talent, intelligence, and drive are like no other collective I have ever encountered. Somehow, we have already amassed a group of professionals, academics, and upcoming talented individuals from the whole span of the sport and physical activity sector. A group that could, and hopefully will, shake the world. 

I don’t know where we are going to get to with this or how it will pan out, but it feels big. As I said to Chris and Emma “this is totally a thing”.

I am nervous writing this down in case somehow I curse it and kill the vibe.

If before the sessions I’ve felt worried and imposter-ish, after the sessions I’ve felt emboldened and driven. I’m delighted that this exists and I am excited to see where WE go next .

What have you done so far?

It feels like we have done quite a bit already.  As I write, we have held a total of four meetings since the start of the year.  We have had a total of 92 spaces taken on those meetings, with further expressions of interest.

From this I think what we have already shown is that there is a need and demand for this group.

The meetings themselves have felt really powerful, with people sharing openly and positive about why we’ve come together and what we could possibly do.  I’ve been really encouraged by the breadth of experience we’ve seen in the group, and the mix of established faces in the world of disability sport and new ones too.

In the meetings we’ve talked about the scope of the group, what it is for (and not for) how it should be (and not be).  

On a working basis, as these will continue to evolve and develop, we have identified a summary of 5 principles for what the group should be:

  • Purposeful- Have a clear reason for being, not being tokenistic
  • Supportive – To help each other and to share knowledge
  • Solution driven – Finding ways to develop the contribution that disabled people make in sport and physical activity
  • Organic – The group should naturally evolve and develop, shaped by the people within it

How have you done it?

Here is where I need to say a big thank you to all the people who have helped and encouraged us so far.  The momentum and demand has exceeded my own cautious expectations! 

I want to say a big thank you to Lucy Moore and Emma Richardson for their great work behind the scenes to help nurture the group through these early stages. I’d pick out a few things we have done:

  • Been committed to co-production
    We have tried to use this approach throughout, mindful that we all have a perspective to offer and should work to arrive at the answers together. This has been a challenge at times as I’ve seen the role of Lucy, Emma, and I to very much hold the space.  I like a plan, so to just ‘let it be’ and to go in a direction has been an interesting and developmental process, but helped by the amount of wisdom we’ve been able to muster in the group.
  • By listening
    It seems like an obvious point, but it has been a huge feature of how we’ve moved.  An example of this is hearing the demand for a daytime meeting from people who wanted to attend a meeting but couldn’t make the evening sessions we put on.  So we put on a daytime meeting an expanded the reach of the group!
  • Trusting the process
    We’re breaking new ground here so we’ve had to trust ourselves, the people we are working with.  It’s also taken a bit of courage to put ourselves ‘out there’ and to see what has happened. I have also had to challenge my perfectionist self in that I have had to be comfortable with the idea that I might make mistakes but that being all part of the learning process.
  •  By sharing
    Lucy and I have been very clear from the outset that the group is collectively owned.  We’ve bought other people like Emma in and are strengthening the group by having a steering group of others who will help to manage things.
  • By keeping it simple
    We’ve had to keep things simple – and I think that’s been part of our learning.  Part of this is due to necessity – we have no budget and finite time. Simple is good though, and helps us to be inclusive.

What are you going to do?

We want to keep developing the group and using the momentum we have generated so far. We have future meetings planned and will keep shaping the focus and purposeful nature of the group by:

  • Sharing our statement of purpose – the group is developing our statement of purpose to help us tell our story about why we exist, who we are and what we will do
  • Refining the structure of the group – we will develop the group structure so it can work in the a way which is inclusive and allows everyone to help shape it
  • Retaining our principled pragmatism – we will keep evolving and growing being shaped by the group itself. The group will shape how the group evolves!

Who is it for?

Anyone with an impairment, our allies and with an interest in joining the group. We’ve deliberately not set any qualifying criteria to be inclusive!

About the Author

Dr Chris Whitaker is a disability blogger who writes on impairment related issues.