With the start of the New Year, it’s important to think about what we want in the 12 months ahead. For many people, January is a fresh chance to focus on becoming more active.
For years I was put off doing any sport or exercise because, when I was at my mainstream school, I was bullied by my classmates during PE. Even the teacher had a negative attitude towards me and made little effort to make me feel included in the lessons. Sometimes I purposely forgot my PE kit or made myself feel sick just so that I didn’t have to be in the lesson. But this isn’t the way it has to be for people with a learning disability like me. Sport can be fun and, most importantly, it can be inclusive.
People with a learning disability face lots of barriers to taking part in sport. I struggled with my balance and hand-eye coordination so I knew I wasn’t going to be the next Serena Williams, but my school’s negative attitudes just made me feel all the worse.
It’s no wonder that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive and twice as likely to be obese than the general population.
As a campaigns support officer working on Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign, which is tackling health inequalities by improving how hospitals treat people with a learning disability, I know just how important this is. People with a learning disability die on average two decades younger than the general population. As well as access to good quality healthcare, the chance to be included in sports and live a healthier life can make a real difference.
When I was 11, I moved to a special educational needs school and got involved in cross country running which showed me that I could take part in sport too.
I know first-hand why inclusive sport is so important. That’s why I am proud that Mencap is pioneering All Move, a programme that is bringing together children both with and without a learning disability through inclusive sport in schools across the country.
Through All Move, a programme funded from income raised as part of Mencap being the official charity partner of the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, 1,200 children will take part in 26 hours of sports, like synchronised swimming, walking hockey and wheelchair basketball, playing together in mixed teams and on equal terms – it will be a virtual Marathon!
My favourite way of keeping fit is dancing. Currently I’m learning how to line dance at a club for people with a learning disability where I volunteer. Dance has enabled me to keep active and be creative, and I’ve even got ambitions to compete in Strictly Come Dancing one day, so watch this space!
Just because I felt excluded from sports at school doesn’t mean this should be the case for all children with a learning disability. I hope All Move will help break down the barriers and tackle discrimination to change attitudes towards learning disability.
Find out more about Mencap’s All Move programme at: www.mencap.org.uk/all-move
“Sport can be fun and, most importantly, it can be inclusive.”