Vantage Point – Disability and Accessibility

Thursday 03 September 2020

To read this article and the latest edition of Revolution, click HERE

Vantage Point is a brand-new feature exploring how together we are shaping a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future for motorsport.

In each edition, we invite a key figure with a specific focus to provide an update on how our sport is building back better, charting key progress steps from their particular ‘vantage point’.

In the first edition, campaigner and racer Nathalie McGloin brings us up to speed on the work governing bodies like Motorsport UK and the FIA are doing to make motorsport more accessible to disabled competitors. As President of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission, Nathalie McGloin is at the centre of opening up pathways into the sport for disabled drivers, from the grassroots to the very top.

Paralysed in a road accident aged just 16, Nathalie has been a passionate and dedicated advocate for disabled motorsport competitors ever since she started racing in 2015, helping to break down barriers that obstruct full and effective participation. We asked Nathalie what specific actions are helping to increase the opportunities for drivers with disabilities.

The FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission [DAA] was only created in 2018, so it’s still relatively new. Even with the additional challenges of the last few months we’ve done a lot in that time, and we’re in a good position in terms of putting rules and regulations in place to make motorsport more accessible. So far, though, we’ve only really been able to achieve it for people already aware or involved, so we need to move forward to the point where a wider demographic of disabled people is aware that motorsport is open to them.

As it stands the regulations are in effect and evolving all the time but, in the past, the changes to Appendix L to the International Sporting Code tended to be quite reactive to certain high-profile individuals, and specific to enabling them to compete in particular events. Prior to the creation of the DAA, this had its benefits, such as Billy Monger helping to get the rules changed to permit disabled drivers to race single-seaters, which was previously not permitted.

However, now the regulations are much more wideranging and focus on disabled drivers in general rather than anyone specific. This was our focus for the first year of the DAA: to build a solid foundation of regulations that then allowed us to move on to creating more opportunities within the sport for disabled people. We recently gained approval for a new regulation for Certificate of Adaptations, on the basis that if you adapt a homologated car it can fall outside of its regulations, which was causing an issue for some people. For instance, Alex Zanardi was getting ready for the Daytona 24-hour last year and he explained they were having difficulty getting the adaptations accepted.

The certificate runs alongside the homologation papers to say they don’t alter the car’s performance or safety and permit the driver to compete. This was an answer to the proposal that Alex could take part but only in his own class, which kind of defeats the object because he wouldn’t have been classified. The Certificate of Adaptations means a disabled driver can compete against able-bodied competitors in an adapted car and is one of the major progress steps we’ve been able to put in place.

Regulation changes like this help drivers at all levels, of course, but now the door is open we need to help people through it. The pandemic and wider focus on issues like EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) have exposed the need to be more inclusive in all aspects of life, motorsport being one of them. We’re doing great things and opening the opportunities for disabled people, so I think there is an opportunity here with the wider discussion to tell potential competitors that we’re here to support them.

“The Certificate of Adaptations means a disabled driver can compete against able-bodied competitors in an adapted car and is one of the major progress steps we’ve been able to put in place”

Another really positive development is the Safety Equipment Grant, which means participants can apply for support through ASNs in acquiring the highest level of safety equipment in terms of clothing, fuel cells and fire extinguishers. This means that disabled drivers will get a leg-up and they will also be competing in the safest possible environment, at whatever level.

The emphasis now must be effective communication, so people know the grant is available and open for applications through their national governing body. This is important because where I think motorsport is really appealing to disabled competitors is the parity of being able to compete against able-bodied people.

Saying that, entry into motorsport is difficult for everyone and cost will always be a massive factor. Unfortunately, with increasing technology things also get more expensive, which makes the entry level for disabled drivers that bit higher; you don’t have that opportunity to start out with a cheap, basic car and because there isn’t that stepping stone, there remains a gap between ambition and opportunity.

Life with a disability is more expensive in general, too, and often people don’t have the spare cash to put into a track car, which is where track days have become a great taster for people and proving to them they too can participate safely and competitively in motorsport.

Many people are already familiar with Spinal Track, which I set up with my partner to offer track and rally experiences to novice disabled drivers. That’s just one option though – Loughborough Car Club has a Disabled Driver Scholarship, which is great because that is truly accessible, grassroots motorsport. Disabled drivers get the opportunity to try out autotesting in an adapted car with the top driver winning a drive for a season. We need more initiatives like this in all aspects of the sport and this is one of the main topics I’m discussing with my Commission in order to create those access routes for disabled novices. The more initiatives that are available to give disabled drivers a taste of motorsport, the more likely we are to have a bigger percentage of disabled licence holders in the coming years.

I’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing some fantastic stories from some of our beneficiaries through Spinal Track, including a couple who have bought their own Golf GTI like the one we use to develop into a track car. I have also had a really emotional day with a guy who was injured at 16 like me, was a really enthusiastic driver, had done all the courses you could do and his dad was watching him from the pit wall with tears in his eyes because he never thought he’d see his son driving round Silverstone on his own merit. Stories like that are what drive us – the important thing is giving people the belief that anything is possible. The power of motorsport to heal is the beauty of it for me – speaking personally it’s helped me make peace with my injury, and that’s a big, big statement.

“Motorsport is the only sport in the world where disabled and non-disabled people compete together across all levels and where no sub-category exists for a so-called disabled motorsport”

I briefly touched on communication earlier but in actual fact this has been a major focal point in recent months. I have always been a big believer in the power of social media, but increasingly we are placing more emphasis on telling stories like these, highlighting the possibilities and growing the audience so that more and more people can see what is possible for them in motorsport. The DAA Commission has just been given the green light for our own Instagram channel which will be going live in the next couple of months. This is a real opportunity for us to realise our goals of reaching those disabled people who aren’t aware that motorsport is an accessible and inclusive sport. The channel will really promote all the opportunities that exist already, but also serve as our news channel to promote upcoming projects that we are undertaking to make motorsport even more accessible.

One of our key pillars that we’ll be focusing on next year is our Accessible Podiums campaign. My goal is that all Formula One and Formula E circuits become completely accessible for disabled spectators, volunteers, officials and competitors in the next couple of seasons. My hope is that by doing this, the culture of accessible motorsport venues will trickle down into the other circuits in those countries too. I want these circuits to be flying the flag for my Commission and for our sport by saying ‘however you choose to enjoy our sport, we cater for you regardless of disability’. Silverstone is already on board with this, and I’m hoping that as one of the most iconic circuits on the F1 calendar their support will encourage other circuits to follow suit.

Motorsport is the only sport in the world where disabled and non-disabled people compete together across all levels and where no sub-category exists for a so-called disabled motorsport. Whether you are a paraplegic Clerk of the Course, an amputee racing driver or a partially sighted spectator, along with your non-disabled equivalents, we’re all in this together. I’m ready to really start shouting about this so that everyone begins to understand that motorsport is for everyone.

Stay in touch with the latest developments in Disability and Accessibility on the Motorsport UK channels and the brand-new FIA Instagram account – FIA DAA Commission