Discrimination and exclusion is taking its toll on the health of Victorians with disability, with new VicHealth research released today highlighting significantly lower levels of physical activity and mental wellbeing amongst Victoria’s disability community.
The research showed Victorians with disability are significantly less physically active (40%) than Victorians without disability. People with disability were half as likely to feel safe walking around their neighbourhood during the day and experienced significantly lower levels of life satisfaction and self-reported mental wellbeing.
Released on the International Day of People with Disability, the study of over 22,000 Victorians, including more than 6,300 people with disability found:
- People with disability were 40% less likely to be physically active than people without disability.
- This physical activity gap widened with age: 18–34 were 20% less likely; 35–64 were 30% less likely; 65+ were nearly 50% less likely.
- People with disability were 25% less likely to feel positively about their neighbourhood and half as likely to feel safe walking around alone during the day as people without disability.
- People with disability were a third more likely to eat takeaway food than people without disability.
- People with disability experienced significantly lower mental wellbeing, resilience and life satisfaction than people without disability.
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said the research showed the critical need to improve inclusion and accessibility and provide more opportunities for people with disability to participate in all aspects of society.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience good health and happiness. However, this new research shows Victorians with disability are missing out on opportunities to improve their health and wellbeing,” Ms Rechter said.
“It’s unsurprising that people with disability are less active than those of us without disability, as they have less opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity.
“We also know that people with disability are also much less likely to feel safe in their communities. It’s unacceptable that Victorians with disability don’t feel safe walking around their local area alone during the day.
“This research shows we need to do a lot more to make Victorians with disability feel welcome, safe and supported in our sports clubs, our gyms, our streets and our neighbourhoods.
“That’s why VicHealth has a focus on health equity throughout our work. It’s about increasing opportunities to be healthier for everyone, especially those who are facing the greatest obstacles.”
Ms Rechter said the new research highlighted the opportunity to prioritise the health and wellbeing of people with disability with tailored programs and policies to boost inclusion.
“It’s really important that people with disability have the opportunity to participate in the community – it’s why VicHealth funds a range of programs tailored to meet the needs of people with disability, such as sport and cultural activities.”
One of these programs is AFL Blind, an adapted version of Australian Rules football for blind and vision impaired players run by AFL Victoria and Blind Sports Victoria.
AFL Inclusion Manager Tim Nield said the AFL wants to ensure that every Australian has the choice of playing Australian football should they wish to do so.
“We are now proud to be able to deliver the AFL Blind program which enables Victorians with blindness and low vision the opportunity to play our great game and share in all the health benefits which come along with participating in sport and recreation – including comradery, socialising, a sense of belonging and community, and smarter health choices,” Mr Nield said.
“We look forward to building upon the AFL Blind program, along with all our disability programs, so we can continue to welcome more players into the football family.”
The peak body for disability sport and recreation in Victoria Disability Sport & Recreation CEO Richard Amon said it was critical that sports clubs and physical activity providers make their activities accessible, inclusive and welcoming for people with disability.
“Sport has the power to change the lives of people with disability, not only providing them with opportunities to be active and healthy but also to form friendships and connect with their community,” Mr Amon said.
“Yet people with disability can only reap the benefits from sport and physical activity if the activities are accessible, inclusive and welcoming.”
“Community attitudes and awareness are vital to creating a welcoming environment in addition to the training of sports and leisure staff and volunteers in a co-ordinated manner.
“We’re currently working closely with VicHealth investigating a disability sport hub concept and look forward to addressing this and other issues so that people with disability can feel confident about making the choice to be more active - a right for all Victorians”.
Ms Rechter said research showed poor health outcomes for people with disability are often linked to discrimination, unfair treatment and abuse and that we all have a responsibility to create positive change.
“Promoting positive attitudes and challenging negative stereotypes about people with disability across the community will help improve inclusion,” she said.
“It may also help to reduce the threat from violence and social exclusion many people with disability experience.”
The full VicHealth Indicators Survey Supplementary report: Disability is available at https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/2015-supplementary-report-disability
Rachel Murphy, VicHealth Senior Media Advisor on 03 9667 1319, 0435 761 732 or [email protected]