64% of disabled teenage girls don't engage in sport or exercise regularly

In partnership with the Sweaty Betty Foundation, Women in Sport and Nuffield Health, Access Sport’s new Breaking Barriers project sheds light on the untold struggles of disabled teenage girls in accessing sport and exercise.

To spread the message about this important project, we hosted a launch event at Nuffield Health’s Barbican Support Centre. 

Joined by influential figures from across the sport, health and wellbeing sector, it was a fantastic evening filled with positive conversations about how we can get disabled teenage girls more active.

After the guests were welcomed, Access Sport Chief Executive, Helen Rowbotham introduced our panel:

  • Afsana Lachaux, Sweaty Betty Foundation 
  • Tanya Martin, Women in Sport
  • Teagan Fallows, Nuffield Health 
  • Sophie Jalland, Youth Representative
  • Lucy Jalland, Access Sport.

Expertly led by Helen, the panel discussed the key findings from the report:

  • Many disabled teenage girls understand the benefits of playing sport or exercising and want to do more
  • Disabled teenage girls are frustrated by the lack of suitable opportunities outside of school
  • Disabled teenage girls face additional barriers to being active compared to non-disabled teenage girls
  • Girls only opportunities help girls find joy in sport and, for many disabled teenage girls, participating with other disabled girls is important
  • Coaches and instructors play a key role in creating a non-judgmental and welcoming environment.

To conclude the evening, we premiered a short film that showcases disabled teenagers’ personal experiences of sport and exercise. You can watch the full video by clicking on the image below.

Helen Rowbotham, Access Sport CEO, commented:
“Every girl deserves the chance to experience the benefits of sport, but when 64% of disabled girls admit to not participating regularly, and over half asking for more accessible opportunities, it's clear we have work to do. It's not about sport for sport’s sake; it's about empowerment, inclusion, and a brighter future for disabled teenage girls”.

Afsana Lachaux, Sweaty Betty Foundation Director, added:
“This research empowers disabled teenage girls to be heard and highlights the urgent need to tackle the barriers they face in sport and exercise. Partnering with Access Sport, we're committed to breaking down these barriers and ensuring every girl experiences the life-changing benefits of being active."

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Women in Sport CEO, adds:
 “All teenage girls are at risk of dropping out of sport but disabled girls experience additional barriers to participation and as a result enjoy sport less. This is unacceptable and cannot continue. This vital research marks the start of that change. All girls deserve to experience the joy and life-long benefits of sport and we must ensure they are not being pushed out.”

Davina Deniszczyc, Medical and Charity Director, Nuffield Health, commented:
“This research provides valuable data to help us understand and identify the barriers teenage girls and disabled teenage girls face when accessing physical activity and sport.  Critically, we need deeper insight into the experiences disabled girls face to ensure they aren’t excluded or miss out on all the benefits that sport and physical activity brings. Our ambition is that this data, and these valuable partnerships, will help build more inclusive programmes and initiatives that will improve the health of disabled girls and allow them to be more active.” 

This report serves as a stark wake-up call.

To get more disabled teenage girls active, we are calling for tangible action from sport and exercise providers. The findings from the Breaking Barriers report must be used to:

  • Build an understanding of disabled teenage girls' needs and their attitudes towards sport and exercise
  • Provide more inclusive offers for a disabled teenage girl audience, that prioritise fun and are judgement-free
  • Better educate coaches in disability-inclusive sport and exercise. 

Commissioners, funders and policymakers should also:

  • Prioritise inclusive coaching in the education and professional development of the sport and exercise workforce
  • Invest in more inclusive opportunities both in and out of school for disabled teenage girls
  • Ensure future research focused on teenage girls’ experiences recognises that they are not a homogenous group and applies an intersectionality lens. 

By embedding these recommendations in their ongoing work, we believe that the Government, the sport for development sector, and community sport providers can collaboratively make a tangible, positive difference in the lives of disabled teenage girls across the country.

To support community sport providers, funders and policymakers, we have also developed a toolkit that provides guidance on engaging disabled teenage girls in sport and exercise.

You can read the full report and toolkit by clicking on the link below.

Breaking Barriers >