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Co-producing physical activity online

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

The Covid-19 crisis increased the marginalisation experienced by Disabled people. And it is more important than ever that organisations are making efforts to hear what Disabled people have to say when it comes to improving our health and wellbeing through being active and moving more.

Involving us in shaping the design and delivery of services as we enter the ‘new normal’, will ensure that we can all come out of this crisis stronger together.

This guide will help help you you think through some of the ways you can work with and for Disabled people online.

Do staff members in your organisation have the capacity to be involved in engagement activity?

Although co-production is important, it is understandable that many organisations that usually involve users in the design and delivery of services may be struggling with capacity at the moment. Putting pressure on your organisation at a time when you are having to prioritise key services is not a good idea. Covid-19 has drastically changed our availability, and imposing targets and deadlines on each other in these extraordinary times would go against the core principles of co-production.

If you are finding it difficult to prioritise running engagement events, you could instead begin to make plans around how you can move forward and take steps on the co-production ladder. For example, keeping communication with members of the community that you have engaged with and making them aware of what you are doing at the moment. This will also make it easier when you are in a position to move forward, as you have still been able to build on these relationships.

Are participants shielding?

People who are following government advice and shielding in their homes may not benefit from the activities and initiatives you are planning for when lockdown eases further, as they may have to continue staying at home. It is therefore important that you consider other ways to engage with these people to make sure that they can still be involved.

Are you able to engage with voluntary and community sector colleagues?

Many organisations within the community sector, including Disabled people’s user led organisations (DPULO’s), are maintaining contact with the people who use their services during the coronavirus outbreak. The community sector is often a trusted resource for Disabled people, and building connections with these organisations can be a positive way to engage with a variety of people. Involving a local DPULO in your work and working in partnership with them could be a beneficial way of ensuring you are continuing to engage in co-production approaches.

How can we make sure people who cannot access the internet or have the experience to do so are not excluded from co-production?

It can be easy to assume that everyone is now connected on the internet, however this is not the case. There are a large group of people who do not have the means to join in online video calls, and not engaging with these people may mean you lose out on valuable experiences and ideas. Find out how this group would like to be engaged with and make a plan that reflects their needs.

Some ideas could include:

  • Making phone calls to people and involving them by phone

  • Use conference calls as a way to bring a larger number of people together.

  • Use printed and posted documents as a way to keep in contact and keep discussions flowing.

  • As mentioned above, engage with the community sector as a way of making links with people who are not on the internet. A local DPULO may be in regular contact with people who do not have access to the internet, and could be a beneficial way of making links and ensuring this group of people are not left out.

How can we co-produce in the digital world?

For the foreseeable future, we will have to adapt the ways we are approaching co-production and related engagement activities due to the coronavirus outbreak. As well as engaging with people offline as mentioned above, many activities will also now take place online for those who have internet access.

Many people will agree that digital engagement can be difficult, and it poses more challenges than meeting face to face. Using digital methods for co-production means continuously assessing what is going right or what might need to change. We all need information in slightly different ways to support us to understand and bringing creative engagement methods from face to face sessions can empower people to take part.

Below are some tips for co-producing using online methods:

  • Consider your platform carefully. Be mindful of the accessibility and preferences of those you are working with.

  • Think about the practical, technical and personal support attendees may need to fully engage with these online methods, and provide this well in advance.

  • Consider sharing materials beforehand so that online information is not overwhelming.

  • Think about how information can be shared in different ways (verbal, written, pictorial) in order to make it more accessible.

  • If you are working with people with learning disabilities, make sure the information you send them is accessible. Change have a useful guide on creating accessible content.

  • Be aware of online exhaustion during virtual co-production, a universal issue, but one that might be particularly pertinent for Disabled people. Make sure to incorporate breaks into the meeting.

  • Instead of talking at people, use practical activities that can bring people together.

  • Plan how information arising from discussions and activities will be captured and recorded. For example, typing notes in real-time whilst screen-sharing could act as a reflection tool, aiding the conversation as well as allowing for immediate clarification and edits to be made.


It is essential to take into account the accessibility of whichever platform you decide to use, and take steps to make it as accessible as possible. Here are some tips:

  • Some online meeting solutions offer closed captioning tools. This allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have access to the online calls that you run. It also gives your audience the ability to enjoy your content, regardless of the environment they are in.
  • There are also useful live note-taking tools such as that you can use to transcribe your conversations or video calls, it works on several different platforms. You can learn more about Otter.Ai by visiting their website.
  • A group conversation can move rapidly, which can be inaccessible to some people. Make sure that only one person speaks at once, ask people to mute their microphones, use the chat function to record key points, and record the meeting so that people can go back to it afterwards.
  • If you are working with people who have a visual impairment it is important that you are using accessible documents that screen readers can interpret. When on video calls make sure that you share documents being used in advance, that you are describing what is on screen, and that you don’t make assumptions about what people know or can see.

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