Be The Change - How to use evidence based industry best practice guidelines to support more disabled people to work in leisure


Hilary Farmiloe, National Programme Manager, Instructability


Hilary introduced the session by showing the group a video of a leisure centre which caters for employees with a range of impairments. It was highlighted that for a long time the sector has focused on the discrepancies between disabled and non-disabled participation rates and increasing disabled participation in sport, but little focus has been on increasing the representation of individuals with a disability in the sport and physical activity workforce.

When hiring individuals, employers should focus on getting the best individual for the job, regardless of ability or disability. Hilary outlined the benefits of increasing the diversity of the workforce.

The list below should be considered inclusive but not exhaustive.

  • Attract and serve a more diverse customer base.

  • Influence decision making in an organisation to allow it to better serve an inclusive population.

  • Increase satisfaction amongst all employees due to an inclusive workplace culture.

  • Enhance understanding and acceptance of differences across the organisation.

  • Retain existing staff who acquire impairment through injury or health conditions.

  • Improve productivity by cultivating a proactive, creative attitude to challenges.

  • Boost reputation for social responsibility in the local community and across the sector.

  • Be more readily prepared to meet contractual or legislative requirements.

Aspire is a national disability charity, which operates an inclusive community leisure facility, with a visibly diverse workforce. Case studies have shown that having a diverse workforce in a leisure facility made members feel more welcome and increased member engagement. Hilary and the team at Instructability now want to share the learning achieved through the case studies and promote this to the wider sector.

The Instructability programme

The Instructability programme was set up in partnership with Sport England, with the aim of giving individuals with a disability the opportunity to gain access to fitness qualification training. It works with leisure operators to give individuals the opportunity to undertake work placements and gain the knowledge and skills they would need for working in the sport and physical activity sector. Instructability has been running for 8 years now and has seen approximately 350 people go through the programme. They mainly work with YMCAfit on level 2 qualifications, however they are currently looking to increase the opportunities available to individuals, by working with the Institute of Swimming.

A video of individuals who had undertaken the Instructability programme was shown and highlighted the positive experiences the individuals experienced both during and after their participation in the programme. They explained first-hand how it helped them not only gain qualifications, but establish a career.

In order to combat differences in representation and develop strategies and guidance on how to create an inclusive workforce, there is the need for high quality, evidence-based research. Aspire partnered with the University of Birmingham and undertook 360° consultations with disabled people, training providers, awarding organisations and employers. The information collected has been used to construct evidence-based industry guidelines, to assist with the training and employment of disabled individuals, within the sport and physical activity sector.

Increasing diversity in the sport and physical activity workforce will not happen overnight and requires a change in attitude. The following actions can be considered by employers when reviewing their own approach to hiring and promoting an inclusive workforce.

  • It has to be a whole organisation approach and so a top down model would allow for the best execution.

  • Inclusion has to be embedded into an organisation’s strategic plans.

  • A proactive attitude, where modification to environments and situations are considered before there is the explicit need for them should be adopted, as opposed to a reactive attitude to help ensure employers are prepared and create a supportive and inclusive environment.

Hilary explained that the social model of disability looks at what is disabling someone and focuses on finding solutions to reduce the impairment. It focuses less on the disabling effects of a medical condition and looks at how the environment an individual is in can be the disabling factor. This highlighted the need for employers to look at how they can make their facilities more accessible to for a range of workers. In society some of the most disabling factors is people’s attitudes, policies and practices and so employer awareness of conditions and the adjustments they can make to support individuals with these conditions, will help promote an inclusive workforce.

Task 1

The group were split into 3 smaller teams and given a series of questions to work through. These were focused around job and course advertisements and communication within the workplace.

After feedback from the groups it was highlighted that although job and course advertisements are posted on a wide range of sites, employers could make them more accessible to individuals with disability by outlining in the advertisements examples of a few reasonable adjustments they could make to the role or responsibilities to make the job more accessible to individuals with specific disabilities.
It is also key for the workplaces to be inclusive in both the physical set up but also in the provision of information. It is important to consider if the key staff resources are available in forms which any individual would be able to access.

Hilary suggested the following considerations for making documents accessible:

  • Generate documents in Word or as a PDF.

  • Use consistent formatting across documents.

  • When a picture, chart or table is used provide an alternative text description.

What next

Hilary provided updates on the upcoming publishing of the guidelines for training and employing individuals with a disability, which will be publicly available in Summer 2019. Organisations will then be able to download the guidance and disseminate it throughout their workplaces. This should promote the review of current policies and practices and any reasonable adjustments to promote the creation of an inclusive workplace, in line with the guidelines, should be made. It would also be of benefit to measure both staff and customer satisfaction ratings before and after the implementation of the guidelines to determine the impact of creating a more inclusive workplace.