James Shaw's journey to Tokyo 2020 is being documented on his YouTube channel, James Shaw Wheelchair Tennis. (Image Credit: Katie Ansell)

An Activity Alliance report has found that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled people.

Activity Alliance’s Annual Disability and Activity Survey for 2020 has found that despite four in five disabled people wanting to be more active, only two in five feel they have the opportunity to be as active as they would like to be.

By not achieving the level of activity they want, people with disabilities can end up feeling socially isolated, increasing their chances of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

James Shaw, 24, of Ruddington is a Team GB wheelchair tennis player and coach, and knows how important sport has been to his mental health. He was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy when he was 2, a condition that affects his muscles and the control he has over his arms and legs.

“I started competing in tennis age 14, and even then I constantly had people telling me I was never going to be good enough because of my disability. That’s not down to me, that’s down to the accessibility of the sport. Even at my GB tryouts, the coach had to change the exercises because they were impossible for someone with quadriplegic cerebral palsy.”
James has been working with Activity Alliance and the LTA for the past year to popularise wheelchair tennis, documenting his journey to Tokyo 2020 on his youtube channel and Instagram account.

James recently returned from Melbourne, where he competed in friendly competitions to prepare for Tokyo 2020. (Image Credit: James Shaw)

“Sport can help with any work that you’re doing to improve on the physical challenges you may have. For me, my main issues are poor coordination and tight muscles, so I combine my physiotherapy with tennis exercises, and that’s enabled me to live a much more conventionally normal life. I can drive, which no one ever thought I’d be able to do, I can walk for pretty long distances with my crutches, when my doctors thought I’d have lost the ability to walk by the time I was 18.”

The turning point in James’ attitude to sports came from a coach he met when he was 18.
“He changed the idea I had in my head of what sport could be for me, and what it could do for me. He taught me that there is no sport that can’t be played by people with disabilities, the only barriers are the lack of accessibility equipment and the lack of support for people like me who want to do them. He’s the reason I’m working with organisations like Activity Alliance today.”

Activity Alliance are hoping their new report will push local government to create more schemes to help people living with disabilities stay active and healthy, giving them a better sense of community and helping to reduce the mental health struggles they may experience.

Barry Horne, Chief Executive for Activity Alliance says of the study: ““We want to achieve fairness for disabled people in sport and activity, a position where disabled people are as active as non-disabled people. This report will be key to helping us and others to change the reality of disability, inclusion and sport.”

The report was created in collaboration with Sport England, who want the public to know that there is no sport or activity that should be inaccessible for those with disabilities.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive for Sport England says “At Sport England we are all too aware that there’s an unacceptably high gap in activity levels between disabled and non-disabled people, and that despite a desire to be more active, many disabled people are missing out on the range of benefits that can be gained through physical activity.”

James has been using his thousands of social media followers to raise awareness for Activity Alliance’s goal. A large portion of his followers are young people with disabilities, and he’s hoping his regular posts about the report and new local projects will help them.

James won his first international tournament at age 14 (Image Credit: James Shaw)

“I spent a lot of my teenage years struggling to get information about how to properly push my chair, how to get stronger, how to do normal things like get out of the house and push my chair without my friends having to help me. Starting competitive sports and learning more about how to help my body has stopped me from feeling like a burden. If I can help one person feel more confident, feel like they’re not trapped by their disability, then the entire campaign will have been worth it.”

With 10.9 million people living with a disability in the UK, the demand for more support is higher than ever. James hopes that existing campaigns get more public figures on board to help combat barriers that still exist, and is hoping that him getting on board will be the prompt that other Olympians and Paralympians need.

“More can be done for sure. There’s been huge strides in recent years in making sport accessible, but there’s always more that can be done. Organisations like Activity Alliance are doing great work, it’s so important that we make sure that people living with disabilities don’t feel like they can’t live a normal life and don’t feel like they’re restricted by their bodies.”

“Sports changed my life, it really did. It’s given me the confidence I need to open doors in every other part of my life. My education, my relationships, my friendships and my family life have all been improved. The way that my body and my mind have improved means I don’t feel like a burden on them anymore, I’m not constantly stressing about asking them for help because I know I’m capable of doing anything myself. Tennis has taken that tension out of my relationships with other people, and my mental health is a million times better for it.”

Activity Alliance’s Annual Disability and Activity Survey for 2020 has found:

  • Four in five (81%) disabled adults want to do more activity than they currently do compared with fewer than three in five (57%) non-disabled people.
  • Just four in 10 (40%) disabled people feel they are given the opportunity to be as active as they would like to be compared with seven in 10 (71%) non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people are half as likely as non-disabled people to agree that ‘sport’ is for someone like them (32% vs 63%).
  • Seven in ten disabled people are motivated to be active to improve or maintain their physical health.
  • Two in five (41%) disabled people said a fear of losing benefits prevents them from trying to be more active.
  • Two in three (67%) disabled people said they would listen to GPs, doctors and nurses about taking part in activity.

To read Activity Alliance’s report, go to www.activityalliance.org.uk/annual-survey.
Use #ActivityAllianceSurvey to share your thoughts on the report, it’s goals and James’ thoughts on social media.
Find Activity Alliance on Twitter @AllForActivity, and find James Shaw on Instagram @JamesShawTennis.