How To Directory

How to increase Disabled Participation in your Group

Why should you should encourage disabled people to join your group?

Before we get going with the how, let’s think about the why.  Here are some of the reasons why it’s good to include students with disabilities/disabled students* within your group (and you are sure to be able to think of some more!!);

  • Increased membership
  • Improved Club/University image and reputation
  • Access to alternative external funding
  • Making new partnerships in the community
  • Personal reward and development (for the person and you!)
  • Good selling point for future members
  • You may already have *members with disabilities/disabled members that you don’t know about and it may be holding them back
  • Because all students deserve the same opportunity as you are having being part of your group

*Both terms are acceptable but ‘disabled students/members’ is preferred as it is in line with the Social Model of Disability

Who are we talking about?

There are many disabled students at the University of Southampton covering a whole range of impairments.


What is a disability?

There are two main models of disability, the medical model and the social model. These models encourage people to think about disability in different ways, therefore it is important to understand the difference between the models.

The medical model of sees disability as an illness or condition. The social model of disability has been created by, and is often used by, disabled people themselves. Therefore the social model tends to be the preferred model of disability.


The medical model

• Disability is an individual’s state; it’s how a person’s impairment causes them difficulties in society (e.g. a person with a hearing impairment has difficulties in some settings, because they cannot hear very well)

• An increase in inclusion can only occur if the disabled person makes adaptations themselves (e.g. by learning to lip read)

• Medical treatment can reduce the disability of a person


The social model

• Disability is a social state; it’s how society is set up that disables a person, rather than their impairment

• It makes a clear definition between an impairment and the disability

- The ‘impairment’ is the medical condition (e.g. a hearing impairment)

- The ‘disability’ is the effect that society has on the person due to their impairment (e.g. a setting disables a person with a hearing impairment by not providing an induction loop)

• An increase in inclusion can occur if society makes small adaptations to the environment

• Society can reduce the disability of a person


The main impairment groups are;

  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Learning disability
  • Mental health condition
  • Physical impairment

There are so many different impairments that there can be no simple and steadfast approach to ensuring your group is inclusive to everyone.

What difficulties are disabled students likely to face when trying to join student groups?

Some of the common reasons why people with disabilities/disabled people may not currently participate (which obviously vary widely depending on the individual and the groups activities);

  • Their own perception
  • The perception of others
  • Physical barriers
  • Lack of provision
  • Not wanting to ‘put others out’
  • Confidence


Group activities vary a great deal, meaning that some groups will find that there are no or very few barriers to inclusion, whilst other groups may find that there may are some obvious ones.

Starting Off...

For most groups the first time they consider how they can cater for people with an impairment is when a disabled person first approaches them….at this time you have a choice a) to put up barriers or b) do what you can for the person.

If you chose b (which all affiliated groups should do according to SUSU’s equality and diversity policy) here are some tips with what you can do;

a)      Start simple. Talk to the disabled person and find out what the barrier/s to participation may be…. Work with the person and use your imagination to see if you can overcome it. Have a look at Hampshire County Councils ‘Inspiring You, Inclusion Resource Pack’ which contains tips on inclusion and information cards on specific disabilities.

b)      If neither of you can think of a solution, talk to your National Governing Body (if there is one) and/or any organisations that specifically work with people with a particular impairment. They may be able to advise you of a piece of equipment or a different method the person can use or give you inclusion tips.

c)      Consider which option may be best (will depend on individual impairment and type? of group you are, you may wish to try a couple out and see what’s best)

  • Mainstream Participation: Disabled person trains/competes/practices/joins in fully with the Group. Minimum changes may need to be made to the group (e.g. communication style / meetings or activities always accessible).
  • Integrated Participation: Disabled and non-disabled people participating in your activity with some adaptations to rules, equipment and/or facilities (e.g.  a person who is visually impaired may be able to participate if the ball you play with was a different colour).
  • Partial Participation: Disabled person trains/joins in with Group but for some elements may participate with an external group or by themselves e.g. a wheelchair user may train with your club but complete with an external club.
  • Disability Specific Participation: A sub-section of your group solely for that particular disability group.

d)      Finally, if you have exhausted all options and you can’t find a solution to include them in your group, do your best to help them find a local group they can participate in (they have built up the confidence to approach you but they may not have the confidence to continue the search on their own). Your group may want to create links with this local group (e.g. have joint meetings/competitions or your members may be able to help out).

Running your group so it’s inclusive to those with disabilities


As you get more and more inclusive your group may develop a reputation (obviously a good one) for being an inclusive club and your group may even be the reason a prospective student chooses to attend the University of Southampton. You therefore may need to make amendments to how you run your Group.

Here are some recommendations and suggestions;

a)      Every member should do a medical questionnaire for your group every year (make sure you include a box for any additional info/extra needs). If anyone identifies their impairment, have a chat with them and work out together the best way you can support them, then write it down so you both are clear. This information will need to be shared with relevant people within your group; you both need to decide who you are going to share the information with and to what extent.

b)      You may want to promote the fact that you are an inclusive club. This may be via your website, Facebook page and/or your groups hub page (e.g. a blurb and photos).

c)      You will probably need to amend your risk assessment to include any special adaptations you are making (e.g. you may decide to give a hearing impaired person a ‘buddy’ who will catch the attention of the person when there are relevant audio cues).  Specific health and safety risks should be treated on a case by case basis. Risk assessments should not implement blanket policies that restrict all people with disabilities or assume that they are a greater risk, since disabilities vary so widely. If you need any extra advice email groups@unionsouthampton.org

d)      People with disabilities may be particularly vulnerable. Please read the ‘How to' card on Safeguarding here


What can SUSU do to support your group?

  • Facilities – if you believe any large pieces of Union or University owned equipment or facilities are barriers to participation for a disabled athlete talk to your rep and ask them to bring the issue to the committee they sit on. The committee will then look into whether anything can be changed.
  • Equipment – Groups can ask SUSU for funding support at certain times throughout the year
  • Training courses  – Groups can ask SUSU for funding support at certain times throughout the year

More information on applying for funding can be found here.

Other useful websites


AU Clubs - Going forward….

It was identified by the AU Committee that there is a gap in the help that SUSU give clubs wanting to include athletes with disabilities. We are currently looking into choosing 3 sports (who want to be involved) develop their provision for athletes with a disability. This is in its initial stages….watch this space for more info!