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  • Make volunteering in sport more appealing for disabled people, new research finds

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The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) alongside the eight National Disability Sports Organisations and Sport England commissioned the project. It aims to understand more on volunteering in sport, as well as to improve the quality and number of opportunities for disabled people. The researchers involved almost 1,500 disabled and non-disabled people in the report and compared the differences in perception and experience of volunteering between the two audiences.

The findings guide providers on how and when disabled people volunteer generally and the extent to which they volunteer in sport. They highlight the different ways in which disabled people commonly volunteer and their interest in sports volunteering. These can help providers to encourage and support more disabled people to volunteer in sport.

One key finding explores the reason disabled people may not volunteer in sport. It shows the impact disabled people’s low participation in sport has on volunteering. Disabled people who volunteer in sport are twice as likely as non-disabled people to have taken part before. This suggests that the sport sector is not something that appeals to disabled people who have not been part of it previously. Concern about the need for volunteers to be frequently involved (at least once a week) arose in responses. Disabled people can be fearful of regular commitment due to fluctuating health problems.

Other key findings included:

  • There is a desire from disabled people to volunteer, but they are more likely to have negative experiences. Almost half (47 per cent) of disabled people currently volunteer generally compared to just over a third (34 per cent) of non-disabled people. Almost half of disabled people have had a negative experience when volunteering (48 per cent) compared to a third of non-disabled people (33 per cent).
  • Despite disabled people’s higher level of interest in volunteering in society generally, this is not reflected in their level of interest in volunteering in sport. Levels of volunteering in sport for disabled and non-disabled people are the same (21 per cent).
  • Disabled people are much more likely to recognise and experience barriers to volunteering. Their concern is in relation to the impact their impairment will have on their ability to volunteer. In addition, providers of volunteering opportunities feel that they lack the skills and ability to support disabled people fully in their volunteering roles.
  • There is often a mismatch between the expectations of providers and volunteers about what the roles entail and too often organisations give insufficient thought to the distinctive needs of volunteers as opposed to participants. This plays a significant part in creating a negative experience for disabled volunteers.
  • Providers do not routinely ask or capture whether volunteers have impairments or long-term health conditions. This means providers’ awareness of disabled volunteers and their needs is low, and they are less confident in how to support disabled people.

Barry Horne, Chief Executive of EFDS, said:

“We know that volunteers are vital in sport and active recreation. Not only do they help to boost the number of activities available, but develop leaders and role models in sport. Disabled people offer useful skills that can be extremely valuable and it is a missed opportunity not to draw from their lived experiences.

“It is clear in these findings that the knock-on effect of the low numbers of disabled people taking part in sport, is that there is less appeal in sports volunteering. We hope more providers improve their opportunities to all volunteers, but crucially work towards engaging and retaining more disabled volunteers.”

Phil Smith, Director of Sport at Sport England, said:

“The contribution of 6.7 million volunteers in sport is immense. It helps individuals get more active, it benefits local communities, and it can do wonders for the volunteers themselves. However, as this new report identifies, there’s a lot to do to make the experience more attractive to disabled people. We need to work on attracting more disabled people to volunteering in sport and activity and ensure they have a great experience when they do get involved. We hope that the whole sport and physical activity sector embraces this challenge.”

International Volunteer Day (IVD), mandated by the UN General Assembly, is held each year on 5 December. It is viewed as a unique chance for volunteers and organisations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work.

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