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We have to see it in order to be it

To mark the launch of Every Body Moves, an inclusive activity finder for disabled people, the chair of the campaign - developed by ParalympicsGB and Toyota, and formerly known as Parasport - shares her personal account of overcoming the accessibility gap when trying to get active as a disabled person.

20th March 2023

by Heather Robinson
Chair of Every Body Moves - Lived Experience Advisory Board

I was 17 when I developed paralysis of my right leg and foot drop due to a cancerous tumour on my spine. Given six weeks to live, walking wasn’t a high priority and I accepted that, should I survive it, I would be a wheelchair user for life.

Following treatment, I was able to become somewhat ambulant and here is where my issues with representation started.

Wheelchair users in sport have some fantastic role models and it’s easy to see yourself. However, those of us with some mobility have fewer heroes like us.

I found that I fell into a kind of no-man’s land where I was too disabled to play able bodied sports but not disabled enough for parasports.

At this point I gave up sports and physical activity.

Access to gyms in my area was limited and I didn’t have any clear way to participate – I wasn’t wanted by sports and so I cut it from my life.

I had been a rugby league fan but chose not to watch the games. If they didn’t want me, I didn’t want them.

But in lockdown I rediscovered my love of watching sports, albeit played in empty stadiums. I watched hours of old games on YouTube and reconnected with friends who are also supporters.

I found that I fell into a kind of no-man’s land where I was too disabled to play able bodied sports but not disabled enough for parasports.

I decided to try wheelchair rugby league in 2022 and found a real passion for the sport. I then started playing physical disability rugby league and later, coaching all forms of disability rugby league.

Disabled people need representation in sport. We need to see it in order to be it.

Last year England won both the physical disability and wheelchair rugby league World Cups.

Both teams have players who are ambulant disabled. Some are amputees and some were born with their disability, but both teams were united in offering clear representation to disabled people.

Wales also took part in the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup and had two female players.

This shows young girls with disabilities that they can be sports stars, that they can represent their country and that they can inspire the next generation.

The campaign Every Body Moves, which has been developed by Paralympics GB and Toyota and that used to be known as Parasport, is key because there is a sport or movement out there for everyone, you just need to find the one that works for you.

More comfortable in your own space? Perfect – you can do online wheelchair boxing or dance classes. 

For those who want to be outdoors there’s Nordic walking or learning disability rugby league like me!

The first step is building more movement into your life. It doesn’t need to be an organised activity; it can be as simple as moving in time to your favourite song.

Participating in rugby league has given me so much more than being active. A recent survey by Savanta tells us that disabled people are twice as likely to say we feel lonelier and more isolated now than before the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

Sport has given me a place to participate and a group of friends who support me not just on the field, but off it as well.

Many activities are free or low cost so it’s a great way to meet people without breaking the bank.

I encourage you to get out there and give a new activity a go, if it’s not the one for you, move onto another one.

There are loads out there and you’ll find someone who inspires you to be the best version of you. You might even make some friends and find a new social life!

Believe me you’ll be surprised.

As for me, my goal for 2023 is to try 12 new sports. Next up is cycling and I plan to take part in the Superheroes half-triathlon for people with disabilities in August – something you’d never hear me say 18 months ago!

Find out more

Every Body Moves

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