Sports and Disability Discrimination

Disabled people in the UK

There are more than 13 million disabled people in the UK. A disabled person is someone who has a physical or mental impairment which affects their day-to-day life, including sporting activities. However, sports is not by any means the sole preserve of the able bodied: disabled people enjoy sports of all kinds and at all levels.

What disability discrimination legislation protects disabled people?

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of disabled people, including those involved in sports. The legislation makes it easier for disabled people to go to work, get an education, play sports as a hobby, and to play sports at amateur level and even at a professional level.

How does disability discrimination legislation help disabled people in sports?

Essentially, it is illegal for any organisation to discriminate against an individual because of their disability (subject to certain exceptions). This means it is unlawful for sports clubs to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason related to their disability.

Sports clubs are required by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, such as providing extra help, or making changes to the way in which they provide their services. Sports clubs must, for instance, make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises in order to overcome physical barriers to access by disabled individuals.

What is meant by ‘reasonable adjustments’?

This is not clearly defined in law, and will usually be fact specific. For instance, it will require organisations to take reasonable steps to change any practice, policy or procedure which adversely affects disabled people seeking to use their services. It will also require organisations to make physical alterations/additions to enable disable individuals to use their services. However, sports clubs have a measure of flexibility enabling them to find different solutions for differing situations as reasonableness requires.

What factors should be taken into consideration when making reasonable adjustments?

In deciding what is reasonable, the following factors are relevant:

  • The type of service provided
  • The nature of the service provider – including the size and available resources
  • The effect of the disability on the individual disabled person

Examples of reasonable adjustments could include simple things, such as ensuring changing room lockers are at the correct height for wheelchair users;ensuring showers with rails are provided; or that sports coaches are given adequate training to take account of disabled participants. In some cases, reasonable adjustments may mean an entire refurbishment of premises to improve the facilities to enable disabled access outside and within the premises.

What specific considerations should a sports club take into account before making reasonable adjustments?

A sports club should take into account specific factors when deciding what reasonable adjustments it should make to comply with the law. For instance:

  • Consulting with disabled users of the facilities: which areas of the club do they need changing or adapting?
  • Take an audit of the current facilities to decide what may need to be changed or adapted
  • Review promotional material from the club
  • Review your staff and coaching knowledge and training to ensure that know how to most effectively to work with disabled people

Are all sports available for disabled people?

The majority of sports are available to disabled people, and many have been specifically adapted to ensure this large group of society has access to the same sports as able-bodied people. This includes tennis, swimming, cricket, and certain track and field events. Running, for instance, has been adapted for disabled people; and inwheelchair tennis, the ball is allowed to bounce twice. However, not all sports need to be adapted for disabled players: wheelchair basketball, for instance, follows much the same rules as able-bodied basketball.

There have also been specific adaptations to some sports equipment, including skis, handbikes and water skis.

The Paralympics

The Paralympics are dedicated to disabled sportsmen and women and is governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).It is a sporting event that takes place every four years immediately after the Olympic Games, and specifically enables athletes with physical and mental disabilities to take part in the Games.

Paralympic Potential Days

In the UK, there are specific events called Paralympic Potential Days (PPDs) run by the British Paralympic Association. At these talent days, disabled potential athletes can showcase their ability and see whether they have the ability to join Team GB at the next Paralympics Games.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.