Chief Executive, Oonagh Aitken, reflects on the recent GOGA conference and considers how volunteers can play a part in supporting disabled people to Get Out and Get Active.

I listened with fascination to the inputs at the recent ‘Get Out Get Active’ conference.  This is a UK-wide programme, funded by the Spirit of 2012 with the aim of getting people who don’t typically participate in activity to do just that.  Activity can mean joining or volunteering with a sports club but it can equally mean getting involved in your local community or taking part in recreational activity which is not necessarily sport.

One of the main groups of people that the programme wants to involve are disabled people.  The conference learned that disabled people are half as likely to be active, to participate in a sports club or to attend a sporting event, than their able-bodied peers.  In 10 years the participation of disabled people in recreational sporting activity of all kinds has only increased by 1%!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – there are so many barriers: finance, transport, motivation, lack of role models, loneliness and lack of social networks or limiting health conditions.  But the conference also heard from lots of great examples of where a bit of imagination and adaptation as well as great role models can really get disabled people and their families and friends involved.

Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles in Wigan runs specially tailored activities for young people with learning disabilities and their families.  Testimonies from young people and their parents demonstrated what a little bit of imagination and basing activities around a social event can achieve.  In our own workshop, we had an inspirational young speaker from Bradford tell us how she works with both disabled and able-bodied people to help them participate in sporting activities and adapt their activities for disabilities respectively.

what COULD organisations like Volunteering Matters do more of?

Every disabled person deserves to have the support of a volunteer if they want it.  Expansion of our existing programmes could mean that more disabled people could get out into their own communities and do more – more sport, more recreational activities, more volunteering, more work experience – more of whatever they want to do!

Our full-time volunteers already support people with disabilities to continue their studies, to volunteer in their own communities, to get out and travel independently, to create social networks for themselves.  Full-time volunteers could, with some additional resources, run sports sessions, offer peer support for a sports or recreational activity or to attend sporting events.  Our part-time volunteers already act as community mentors for disabled people in a number of projects around the country – we could expand this to fulfil my ambition of every disabled person having support from a volunteer if they want it.

Disabled people deserve social networks, friendship, improved health and well-being and the ability to fulfill their potential.  Volunteers can play a part! Find out how you can get involved here.