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Midlands Leads the Way for Disabled Sailors

Growing participation in land-locked region

While Britain’s Paralympic sailors have been battling for glory in Rio, the goal closer to home in the Midlands is to build on the growing participation of disabled people in the sport.

At a grassroots level, clubs are being urged to help develop the region’s existing success in providing Sailability and accessible sailing for all, while at a high performance level, the RYA is nurturing the next generation of high performance disabled sailors.

Although sailing has been dropped from the Paralympics for 2020, the RYA runs a monthly 2.4mR squad at Rutland SC for half a dozen sailors from across a spectrum of ages and disabilities - providing a link between club-level disability sailing and elite national and international racing. The Midlands squad is one of three around the country, the other two being at Leigh & Lowton SC near Manchester and Queen Mary SC in London.

2.4mR coach Brett Cokayne, who is also Sailability Disability Development Officer for the Midlands, says: “Paralympic sailing is not off the radar. The plan is to develop racing activity in the lead up to 2024 in the hope that Paralympic sailing will return, so there is a platform that already exists from which to launch sailors.”

Alongside the inspiration provided by the 2016 Paralympics, the fundraising from this year’s Bart’s Bash – organised by the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation and supported by the RYA – will be going towards developing disability sailing globally, through Sailability projects, volunteer training, accessible equipment and performance sailing.

There has never been a better time for sailing clubs across the region to assess what they offer and consider broadening their membership to make sailing accessible for all.

In fact the Midlands is already leading the way. In 2015-6 there were 14,282 disabled participants in sailing in the Midlands, compared with 10,271 in 2013-14, with regular participation (3x a month or more) up from 1,950 to 2,800; this figure is already on target to have increased again this year. Those taking part range in age from eight to 80 and within those numbers, while some may need access boats, many go sailing in standard dinghies and keelboats.

“Even though we’re landlocked, we’ve got the biggest turnouts; there’s lots of activity, the numbers are still increasing and as a sport it’s growing in popularity. It’s now all about getting more clubs to sign up,” says Brett. “It’s about opening the doors and understanding what people want.”

The biggest perceived barrier to clubs is that disabilities are associated with wheelchair-use and yet this only accounts for 4% of the total; often sailors with disabilities are able to use existing facilities or may come along already appropriately dressed for the day. Brett says most clubs cater for members with disabilities but perhaps don’t realise just how high the numbers are, since there are many hidden disabilities like hearing or sight impairments or heart disease.

“While it’s great to have specific changing rooms and facilities, clubs don’t necessarily need fancy kit. Some of it is as simple as painting a white line on the steps. It’s about asking that question, how inclusive are we? And as memberships get older, it’s about enabling people to continue in the sport they love.”

It costs nothing for a club to sign up for the process of gaining Sailability accreditation and there are lots of resources to help, including a Sailability Club Guidance manual.

The RYA is also currently conducting a Sailability Survey, inviting sailors with a disability to contribute their views about what attracted them the sport and how accessible they found it to get started. The Sailability Survey is open until October 1 and will be used to help shape strategy and provision for the future.    

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