Encouraging more disabled people to volunteer in sport

Published by Revealing Reality, EFDS, Sport England and NDSOs
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New research released on International Volunteer Day (5 December) will enable providers to improve their volunteering opportunities, especially for disabled people. The report, ‘Encouraging disabled people to volunteer in sport’, explores the barriers to volunteering and the drivers that could improve its appeal.

It is well documented that taking part in sport and physical activity has numerous benefits. The physical benefits include improved health and fitness, potential weight loss and improved coordination. There are also significant mental health benefits which can be linked to a sense of belonging and friendship achieved from the social inclusion and interaction.

Participation should not be restricted to playing sport or taking part in physical activity. There are many ways that people can reap the benefits from being involved in physical activity without taking part, including volunteering.

The sport and physical activity sector relies heavily on volunteers to ensure that activities and events take place and are enjoyed. Being a volunteer enables individuals to be part of the environment and gain the benefits without necessarily taking part in an activity. For providers, having a diverse volunteer workforce of different ages, ethnicities and impairments ensures a wider range of experience and knowledge. This encourages creativity and innovation making, their delivery more enjoyable and exciting.

The government sport strategy ‘Sporting Future’ identifies this, stating “it is crucial that the sport and physical activity sector is able to recruit, retain and reward appropriately the volunteers it needs for this strategy to be delivered, that volunteers are suitably representative of the entire population.”

There has been lots of insight work conducted (see appendix 1 for list) around volunteering. It includes understanding the prevalence, the motivations that encourage people to volunteer, the barriers to volunteering and the benefits people get from volunteering. However, there has historically been a significant gap in knowledge around disabled people’s experiences of volunteering, particularly in sport and physical activity. There is some information available, but nothing that looks in detail around disabled people’s experiences of volunteering in general and how they compare to non-disabled people’s views.

The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), alongside the eight National Disability Sports Organisations (British Blind Sport, Cerebral Palsy Sport, Dwarf Sport Association UK, LimbPower, Mencap, Special Olympics GB, UK Deaf Sport and WheelPower) with additional support from Sport England, have conducted this research to fill this gap.

The research includes views from disabled and non-disabled volunteers who volunteer in and out of sport and physical activity. It also spoke to non-volunteers to understand the barriers to volunteering. In addition the research included views and opinions of different providers of volunteering opportunities including organisations such as Tideway Sailability, Get Out Get Active, Volunteering Matters and National Citizens Service (a full list of all provider can be found in the appendix).

The findings are directed toward providers of volunteering opportunities in sport and physical activity (or in general) to help them improve their offer be more supportive and inviting to disabled people. For the majority of the findings, the results refer to volunteering in general, not a specific sector or area. Where findings refer to volunteering in sport and physical activity specifically, this is made clear.

We designed the overall project to understand how and when disabled people volunteer in general and the extent to which they volunteer in sport or physical activity. We want to know what drives and motivates disabled people to volunteer, what prevents them from doing so and how these experiences differ from non-disabled people.

Research objectives

  • To understand how common volunteering is among disabled people compared to non-disabled people
  • To explore different ways in which disabled people commonly volunteer and where volunteering in sport or physical activity sits in that list
  • To determine if there any drivers and barriers to volunteering that are more prevalent for disabled people
  • To find how best to encourage and support more disabled people to volunteer in sport or physical activity

Download the executive summary here