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IMAS story

In this blog, the International Mixed Ability Sports team explains why co-production is fundamental to their ongoing work and inclusive sport worldwide.

Reading Level: Medium
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Created with International Mixed Ability Sports

International Mixed Ability Sports (IMAS) is a global organisation grown from the desire of a young man to play full-contact rugby despite the barriers created by his learning disability, cerebral palsy, and the social model of disability or what society thought he should be able to do.

That appeal to play the game he had previously only been able to watch was made in Bradford, West Yorkshire, in 2009. Fast forward thirteen years, and Anthony Brooke, who has reached 41 years, has just participated in his third Mixed Ability World Tournament in Cork Ireland, with over a thousand participants from as far afield as Ecuador, Canada, and many European countries.

What makes Mixed Ability different?

The difference between Mixed Ability sports and other disability-specific sports is that Disabled participants are not separated or classified by their impairment; rather, they are included as equal members in community sports clubs. IMAS works with a wide range of local, national and international partners across the sports, education, advocacy and healthcare sectors to promote social inclusion and break down prejudices, barriers and preconceptions.

IMAS director and tutor Mark Goodwin explained, “Mixed Ability is for the benefit of the wider community. There are people in grassroots sports clubs who consider their club to be completely inclusive. However, they’ve never gone out and actively recruited disabled people as members. Until you do this, how can you consider yourself a representative of your local community?”

Mixed Ability sports tend to include adults and children with learning and physical disabilities and those on the autism spectrum, adults who have retired from or no longer participate in regular physical activities, and people facing a wide range of other barriers to participation, for example, long term health conditions, as well as coaches, trainers, teachers and facilitators who are interested in promoting social inclusion. What they all have in common is that these are sports clubs seeking to become more inclusive. And they want to build their memberships through a Mixed Ability offer.

The IMAS Trainers who deliver our education sessions, co-write our presentations and provide our activities have all personally experienced barriers to participating in sport. Many of our team have first-hand experience of learning disability or neurodiversity and enjoy being able to share their journey with other people who are experiencing similar barriers or who want to become a champion to drive change in grassroots sports to improve inclusion.

IMAS medical ambassador and non-executive director highlighted the reverse power dynamic created by IMAS experts with lived experience. “IMAS turns things upside down, showing how people can learn lessons from those with intellectual and physical disabilities.”

As Paul (the Maul) says, “we get our message out through presentations and on the pitch”.

Co-producing inclusive activity

Co-production of accessible educational resources is key to the work done at IMAS. Students have skilled themselves in training techniques to inspire their peers, sports leaders and healthcare professionals. Co-founder and director of IMAS Martino Corazza commented, “the Mixed Ability model is now found in many different sports including rowing, squash, boxing, swimming, golf and crown green bowling.

Our trainers of all abilities continue to use their experience to co-produce resources, co-deliver presentations and deliver training to grassroots clubs and social and healthcare settings. We continuously evaluate our learning to understand the impact of this work on Mixed Ability participants.

During the pandemic, the IMAS team co-produced an impressive series of engaging videos, blogs and challenges such as Pandemic Positivity and Mixed Ability Connects to amplify the voices of the IMAS Trainers in raising awareness of barriers faced, tackling inequalities, challenging narratives around social isolation, promoting health and keeping people motivated to be active.

During the first Covid pandemic, many of the IMAS team struggled with the ‘digital divide’, but funding to support the purchase of equipment has enabled new trainers with lived experience of impairments to join the regular training and well-being sessions from across the country.

We are always open to working with like-minded partners/organisations to grow Mixed Ability and would love for anyone who may be interested in getting in touch via our website or any of our social media channels. We have a manifesto in which we encourage people who agree with our ethos to share; this can also be found on our website.


Next Steps

We want to work with you!

We want to make sure that you are working with Disabled people. You can find resources and guides to implement co-production techniques that build accessible activities and spaces on our guides hub.

How to coproduce research in the sport exercise and health sciences

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