People with a learning disability face a number of barriers to taking part in leisure activities. As a result, they often take part in fewer leisure activities than people without a disability.

Latest research and statistics on leisure and learning disability

Leisure is time spent doing an activity that is freely chosen and enjoyed by the person taking part

Leisure activities include:

  • playing a sport
  • going out to places like the cinema or a park
  • spending time with friends.

There are lots of reasons why taking part in leisure activities is good for people with a learning disability

For example, they provide opportunities for:

  • building and maintaining friendships
  • developing personal skills including communication skills
  • improvements in mental health, motivational state and mood
  • improvements in self-worth and confidence
  • improvements in physical health and fitness
  • an overall sense of achievement
  • fun and enjoyment.

(EFDS 2013; Vogt et al. 2012; Darcy and Dowse 2012; Dowling et al. 2010; McConkey et al. 2013; Patterson and Pegg 2009; Specht et al. 2002).

In addition, 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 (Chadwick et al. 2014; Milner and Kelly 2009; Scior and Werner 2015).

For example, McConkey et al. (2013) 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.

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 face a number of barriers to taking part in leisure activities

For example:

  • 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 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.
  • People with a learning disability may lack self-confidence or social skills.
  • People with a learning disability may not be able to afford to take part in certain activities or events. 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)

(Sport and Recreation Alliance 2013; Darcy and Dowse 2012; Rankin 2012; Jones 2009; Abbott and McConkey 2006; ODI 2014; Milner and Kelly 2009; Cummins and Lau 2003; Calvert 2010; Bates and Davis 2004; Reynolds 2002)

  • 17% of people with a learning disability play sport at least once a week, compared with 36% of the general population
  • 64% of UK sports clubs lack appropriate equipment for people with a disability
  • Staff at sports clubs are not always trained to facilitate the participation of people with a learning disability

A large proportion of spectator sporting venues do not meet minimum standards of access and inclusion

(UK Government and Mayor of London 2015).

A recent report by DWP and DCMS (2015) 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 PMLD are less likely to participate in leisure and social activities than those with a mild, moderate or severe learning disability

(Darcy and Dowse 2012; Emerson and Hatton 2008).

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 (Zijlstra and Vlaskamp 2005). 

There are different ways to help include people with a learning disability in leisure activities

These include:

  • training staff to understand the needs to people with a learning disability. This can lead to better communication and knowledge of how activities can be made accessible and inclusive
  • providing easy-read information about leisure activities
  • through more funding for resources and transport (Rankin 2012).

Improving inclusion in sport and leisure

Projects with the aim of improving the inclusion of people with a learning disability in leisure activities are outlined below

 

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

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