The Mixed Ability model: contributing to the SDGs and a more sustainable future

We just need to make it work – my Mixed Ability journey!
22/03/2022
Healthcare partnerships: Reaching new heights through Mixed Ability climbing!
16/06/2022

The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an urgent call for action and are at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. There are clear links between IMAS work and the SDGs. Exploring these links is important given the SDGs represent a useful and well-recognised framing for how IMAS contributes to a more sustainable future!

There are five SDGs with which IMAS’ work interacts directly:

The Mixed Ability model reduces barriers to physical activity for groups that often face exclusion. This provides obvious physical and mental health benefits for those individuals involved. There are also broader wellbeing impacts associated with being involved with Mixed Ability sport including building social capital and connections, reducing isolation, building confidence, self-esteem and a sense of belonging.

‘I am more confident and relaxed about being accepted and integrated by the group, they all make me feel part of the team, and they teach me the joy of sport!’. Mixed Ability rugby player

Not only does the Mixed Ability model increase access to physical activity and sporting facilities but also to quality education. The IMAS Trainers gain access to capacity building and skills in areas such as presenting and developing resources and, in turn, they promote peer education to sports coaches and others who gain experience, training and confidence in working with diverse groups in sport. This process supports local assets such as sports clubs and facilities to become more inclusive, welcoming and safer spaces for everybody. IMAS also work with healthcare practitioners (see case study below) to equip them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to support a diverse range of patients, and with corporate clients, encouraging them to reflect on individual and organisational practices around inclusion and diversity.


IMAS experiential learning opportunities for healthcare practitioners 

Health inequalities related to disabilities remain stark. IMAS are working towards reducing these by offering workshops and placements for healthcare practitioners in order to equip them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to work with disabled patients and involve them in their own care. Workshops and placements involve a combination of educational, practical and reflective activities, which result in:

  • A greater understanding and application of healthcare concepts such as the social model of disability, assets-based and patient-centred approaches and social prescribing
  • An insight into individual experiences and impacts of disability, particularly related to accessing health care.
  • Challenging perceptions of disability and how access to physical activity can be a valuable and effective healthcare option.

‘It’s useful to know how a disability affects someone from a personal experience because it’s all well and good reading about something in a textbook or something that’s a lot more generalised, but when you hear about a person with specific difficulties or what they feel in themselves it’s going to be very different on an individual level than on a group basis.’ 3rd Year Medical Student, Sheffield University


All of the above contribute to reducing inequalities in society for disabled people and for others who may have faced barriers to participation in physical activities or access to education, skills and quality healthcare. Those involved with the Mixed Ability model also report that their perceptions of ‘difference’ are broken down, they have a reduced fear of communication with others and social isolation is reduced. Preconceptions around disability are also challenged leading to some innovative solutions around, for example, employment (see case study below). All of this results in more inclusive and sustainable communities.


Inspiring innovative solutions: Access Hospitality

Sam is a Mixed Ability rugby player with the Halifax Magpies and has learning disabilities. Over a post-training drink with teammate Stuart, he said he would like to work behind the bar. This simple statement led to the development of Access Hospitality, a social enterprise which removes barriers to employment for the mutual benefit of hospitality businesses and people with learning disabilities. Sam is one of the Directors and is in charge of prepping venues and testing the technology prior to Access Hospitality working there:

‘I enjoy every aspect of my job and every day is different. My ideal would be to work for Access Hospitality for five days a week.’ Sam, Director of Access Hospitality

Access Hospitality currently has around 15 employees, trainees and volunteers working on the coffee cart, in regular bar positions and at events. It’s very much a two-way learning process and disabled employees are constantly informing how the organisation’s practice evolves:

‘These guys are really pushing the company forwards. We say this is training but they add so much value and are a joy to work with.’ Wayne, Access Hospitality.

There are key overlaps between the Access Hospitality and the Mixed Ability model. Not least the environment created:

‘Everyone makes you feel welcome. It’s like one big family and people don’t judge you. You can just be yourself … It’s helped get my confidence back up.’ – Ella, Access Hospitality employee The environment and experience is also empowering those involved. Ella is now setting up her own dog café business as a result of her experience on the coffee cart.


The Mixed Ability model is underpinned by resilient, effective and long-lasting partnerships with a number of organisations from local to international scale and across the disability, health, education and sports sectors. These partnerships are built upon shared principles, values, visions and goals and have led to increased impact through sharing learning and resources.

If you would be interested in supporting IMAS to keep contributing to the SDGs, please contact IMAS.

If you want to download the full SDGs report, please click here!

Blog post by Nifty Sustainability

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.