What is leisure?
Leisure is the time we give to freely chosen activities when we are not involved in self-care or work
Leisure activities include:
- Sport and physical activities (gym, swimming, team games)
- Art and entertainment (theatre, concerts, clubs, films)
- Countryside recreation (picnic, hiking)
- Home-based leisure (reading, TV, computer games)
- Visitor attractions (parks, museums)
- Eating out (restaurants, cafes, pubs)
- Social activities (time with friends)
Why is leisure important?
Leisure helps in therapeutic refreshment of your body and mind. The main benefits of leisure activities include:
(1) Mental health – Leisure activities bring improvements in your mental health, motivational state and moods.
(2) Physical health – Outdoor leisure activities improve your physical fitness and health
(3) Personal social skills – Leisure activities provide opportunities for building and maintaining friendships, enjoying and having fun, while at the same time, also developing your communication and social skills.
(4) Self-worth and confidence – Leisure activities bring improvements in a person’s self-worth and confidence and brings about an overall sense of fulfillment and achievement.
(5) Social attitudes – Social attitudes towards learning disability can be improved through community-based and inclusive leisure activities, because positive direct contact with people with a learning disability is an effective way of improving attitudes towards them. We found that an inclusive sports programme helped to challenge negative views of people with a learning disability, and created bonds between the participants with and without a learning disability.
What are the barriers for people with a learning disability trying to access leisure activities?
16.8% of people with a learning disability play sport at least once a week, compared with 39.9% of the general population (Sport England, 2018).
64% of UK sports clubs lack appropriate equipment for people with a disability
Take a look at some of the barriers encountered by people with a learning disability in accessing leisure activities include:
Accessibility in Community Programme Design
There is a lack of accessible venues and facilities. The Sport and Recreation Alliance (2013) found that 64% of UK sports clubs lack appropriate equipment for people with a disability. Staff at venues such as sports clubs are not always trained to facilitate the participation of people with a learning disability. There is a lack of accessible or easy-read information about leisure activities and social events, including information about the accessibility of facilities. There is also a lack of support available to help people with a learning disability to take part in leisure activities, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. In supported housing, if another resident with high needs requires support, then others might miss out on leisure activities. Support workers needing to change shifts – and not doing so in the community can result in people with a learning disability having to leave activities or events early.
Inaccessible Sporting Venues
A large proportion of spectator sporting venues do not meet minimum standards of access and inclusion. A 2015 report by DWP and DCMS collected the views of spectators with a disability, who said that:
- spectator seating is often unsuitable or unsafe
- the only accessible seating may be amongst opposition fans, which can be unpleasant
- venues may be difficult to access, with a lack of disabled parking
- information about a venue’s facilities for people with a disability may be difficult to access
- there is a lack of awareness amongst venue staff of the needs of spectators with a disability
People with a disability take part in fewer leisure activities than people without a disability. 15.83 million people aged 16 and over (36.1%) play sport at least once a week. Meanwhile, 1.56 million people aged 16 and over with a disability or long-term illness (17.0%) play sport at least once a week. This means that people with a disability or long-term illness are less than half as likely to play sport at least once a week as the general population (Sport England 2016). Please note that this refers to people with any kind of disability or long-term illness, not just people with a learning disability.
People with a learning disability may lack self-confidence or social skills. A child’s functional ability and child activity preferences were major predictors for participation in formal and informal activities. Children with disabilities tend to participate predominantly in informal activities within the home and family environment, and therefore experience less diversity of activities and social engagement. Instead they spend more time in isolated activities such as watching television and using the computer (Duncan et al, 1999; Gresham, 1992; Kavale and Mostert, 2004; Morris et al, 2017).
Financial constraints reduce participation. People with a learning disability may not be able to afford to take part in certain activities or events.
Mobility and Transport
As well as entrance fees, a person with a learning disability might have to pay for:
- transport to and from the activity or event
- a support worker to accompany them
- entrance fees for the support worker accompanying them (although some organisations offer subsidised or free access for support workers)
Lack of accessible information can be a major hindrance for people with a learning disability. People with PMLD are less likely to participate in leisure and social activities than those with a mild, moderate or severe learning disability. Leisure participation amongst people with PMLD can be increased by improving the information that is available about day services and activities. It can also be increased by training staff so that they have the appropriate knowledge and techniques to make leisure activities more available and accessible for people with PMLD (Chinn, 2017; Solish et al, 2010; Sitlington and Frank, 1990; Beart et al, 2001).
Ways to improve inclusion in leisure
Studies have shown that participation in activities specially designed for individuals with disabilities are associated with higher levels of participation. There are different ways to help include people with a learning disability in leisure activities
- Awareness Training of Staff – Training staff to understand the needs to people with a learning disability remains an important component towards improving the experiences of people with learning disabilities. This can lead to better communication and knowledge of how activities can be made accessible and inclusive.
- Easy Read information – Providing easy-read information about leisure activities would make information about leisure activities more accessible and hence, more inclusive.
- Transport and Mobility – Providing greater funding for resources and transport would lead to more innovation and better services for people with learning disabilities. This would lead to better community programme designs that support the needs for people with learning disabilities
- Participating in leisure projects – People with a learning disability should be encouraged to participate in leisure projects. Mencap Projects with the aim of improving the inclusion of people with a learning disability in leisure activities are outlined below.
(Fitzgerald and Long, 2017; Morris et al, 2017, Chinn, 2017; Duncan et al, 1999; Gresham, 1992; Kavale and Mostert, 2004; Solish et al, 2010; Sitlington and Frank, 1990; Beart et al, 2001, Rankin 2012).
Improving inclusion in sport and leisure
Mencap Gateway clubs and programmes
Mencap Gateway Clubs and programmes support people with a learning disability to build and maintain friendships and relationships. They also help people with a learning disability to access social activities and events. In addition, Mencap’s Young Ambassadors programme helps young people with a learning disability to meet new people, make friends, and has given them the opportunity to talk about what friendship means to them.
Find out more
Youth Inclusion Hub
The Youth Inclusion Hub is a partnership project between Mencap Northern Ireland, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Action Deaf Youth, Disability Sport NI (DSNI), Cedar Foundation, Brain Injury Matters and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). It supports, trains and provides resources for staff in youth club settings, so that they can become more inclusive of people with a disability.Find out more
Built Environment Professional Education project
The Built Environment Professional Education project was launched in December 2013, as part of the Paralympic legacy. 15 professional institutions support the Built Environment Professional Education project, which aims to ensure that professionals such as architects, planners and engineers have the knowledge, skills and attitude to create inclusive and accessible built environments (UK Government and Mayor of London 2015).Find out more
The Special Olympics Unified Sports Programme
The Special Olympics Unified Sports Programme brought together people with a learning disability with peers with higher sporting abilities (and without a learning disability) in their local community. The participants trained and competed regularly with one another. This led to bonds between participants and helped to improve attitudes towards those with a learning disability.Find out more
The Inclusion Club Hub
The English Federation of Disability Sport (2016) has a free online toolkit to help sports clubs improve provision and opportunities for all disabled people. The toolkit can be used by clubs to test how inclusive their sports club is, get advice about inclusion, develop a plan to improve provision for people with a disability.
Find out more