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Support workers vital in tackling inactivity for people with complex disabilities

New report highlights need for ‘activity champions’ network & training to build confidence for those in social care & sport

The report, published by the disability charity, Sense has highlighted the key role support workers play in getting people with complex disabilities physically active.

Released in partnership with Traverse and Sport England, the new report: ‘Support Workers: attitudes, approaches and barriers to helping people with complex disabilities engage in sport and physical activity’, contains analysis of the experience of support workers, which it recognises as “playing a critical role in encouraging, informing and helping adults with complex disabilities to access sport and physical activity.”

The report states that greater support is required to encourage more support workers to promote the benefits of sport to people with complex disabilities, and that these must “take into account the personal, organisational and local delivery challenges that support workers face.” Amongst its recommendations, it calls for a “cultural shift towards placing physical activity support at the heart of the support worker role.”

‘Physical Activity Champions’ network & increased training

Following the insight, a peer network of ‘Physical Activity Champions’ across Sense will be established aiming to inspire fellow staff, overcome concerns and increase their knowledge of how to best support people to be active.

In addition, the report highlighted inconsistencies in knowledge, awareness and understanding of people with complex disabilities and their needs within the sports sector.

As a result, the Sense Active team will be providing additional support and guidance through training, collaboration and sharing best practice in order to upskill the sports sector to create better experiences for Disabled people and support staff in a sport & physical activity setting.

Jonathan Monk, Director of Operational Programmes at Sense, said:
“Support workers know how to engage people with activities and their communication skills enable people to get the most out of sports and physical activities. I’ve seen first-hand, how the approach taken by a support worker can give people the confidence, desire and ability to get involved in sport and to have a great time as a result.

The research, together with support from Sense Active, provides essential guidance to empower support workers to use their impressive range of skills and knowledge to enable people with complex disabilities to actively participate in sport and achieve great outcomes.”

Mike Diaper, Executive Director for Children, Young People and Tackling Inactivity at Sport England, said:
“We welcome this timely report from Sense, that provides an in depth look into the important role that support workers have in enabling Disabled people to be physically active, and highlights that more work is needed to ensure that coaches feel confident and experienced to support people with multiple impairments to be active.

“Disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive compared with non-Disabled people, and this inequality increases sharply as the number of impairments a person has increases. The Physical Activity Champions network and additional training means that as things begin to open up we can work better together, and draw on our shared expertise, to ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits that come from being physically active.”

Download, read and adopt the recommendations

As well as providing research and recommendations for Sense Active and support staff at Sense, this research is relevant for other social care charities.

The full report, easy read and accessible versions are available to download at:

For more information, please contact Louis Wickett-Padgham, Sense Sport & Physical Activity Development Manager on 07970 668825 or by emailing

About Sense

Sense is a national disability charity that supports people living with complex disabilities, including those who are deafblind, to communicate and experience the world. Sense supports children, young people and adults in their home and in the community, in their education and transition to adulthood and through its holidays, arts, sports and wellbeing programmes. In addition to practical support to families, Sense also offers information advice, short breaks and family events, and campaigns for the rights of people with complex disabilities to take part in life. For more information please visit