Deaf Active Online so far

For the past two years UK Deaf Sport has been working with Comic Relief funding with the aim to create opportunities for deaf people in accessing a range of sport across London and the UK .

This involved improving deaf people social integration in sport, having a positive impact on deaf people’s mental health and well-being to providing new connections and experiences for deaf people within physical activity.

The original purpose of this project was to find and train deaf activators in London to train and develop their skills, to then continue to develop and grow activities for deaf people with the skills they’ve learnt through the project. However before we could begin, COVID-19 pandemic happened which put a halt to that area of the project. In response to this, Sport England launched a #StayInWorkOut initiative, which saw a huge increase in online sport and physical activities being provided and signposted across the sector, a significant alternative to the traditional face to face. 

Rather than be restricted by the pandemic, we thrived, with one of UKDS most successful project launched, called Deaf Active Online.

At the beginning there was a series of nationwide lockdowns and the shut down of all leisure centres, gyms or gatherings of any kind. All across the UK people were only allowed out of their house for essential travel or for one activity a day. This caused a surge of online exercise classes being offered. While this meant easier access for people to exercise within their own home, this did not mean it was accessible. Deaf people were still facing exclusion from physical activity as they had been before the pandemic.

UKDS recognised this issue and with Comic Relief developed ‘Deaf Active Online’, leading the way in providing a range of accessible online sessions led by deaf trainers for deaf people. Ranging from yoga, HIIT, running, weights and cardio.

For the trainers involved in Deaf Active Online, delivering their sessions online was a new experience compared to their usual face to face sessions, but with UKDS guidance and online reach, we developed a straight forward process for them to follow in attracting online clients and created a BSL guide to send to their clients on how to use zoom.

With the foundation of the project laid out, trainers becoming more familiar with online sessions, and video guides being created. We took this opportunity to expand Deaf Active Online further with more inclusive sessions and partnering with other deaf organisations to reach more people. From offering LGBTQ+ online yoga classes with Thrive from RAD, deaf asian running group, to online classes aimed at deaf 50+ participants via Remark.

Suddenly working with clients online meant a lot of the trainers had to adapt their business model online too. To increase the trainers online profile, UKDS set up weekly interviews with Deaf social media influencer Matthew.

Chris Fonseca interview.

Bethany Brookes interview.

Elisabeth Taunton interview.

Andie Vowles interview.


Challenges & Opportunities


There have been a number of challenges identified in this work which includes the following.  

We know that whilst doing sports online is not so new, it has been quite an experience for a large number of deaf participants.  It is being delivered or coached via the 2-D screen, e.g. iPad; you have to adjust the camera angle so that the tutor can see you.  If using Zoom, there’s also the decision whether to let others see you or if you want to see them; you can click on speaker view to only see the instructor/trainer.

There’s also the trainer’s challenges; offering something that works for everyone is difficult. Some are more ready than others. Some participants have additional issues, physical limitations.  There’s also the trainer’s confidence in promotion digitally, a lot of time has been spent to support their technical needs.


Reaching out to deaf people digitally – some of us recognise that doing face to face events with deaf people, where people are required to travel to get to activities can be challenging. The increase in digital activity during lockdown is going to make a lot of key players wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of digital delivery.  We must always think about different ways of delivery, whilst remembering the importance of social integration and participation

From March 2020 to the date of this publication, UK Deaf Sport have delivered 4,638 places for deaf people online.

We asked those who participated questions about their overall wellbeing and the benefit they gained in doing these online classes (data is collected from all participants for the duration of #DeafActiveOnline).

  • 82% reported ‘Taking part in the class helps me feel positive’.
  • 49% reported ‘Without taking part in the class, I would be feeling bored’.
  • 46% reported ‘Without taking part, I would be feeling less healthy’.
  • 52% reported ‘Through taking part in the class, I have met other people and feel part of a community’.

Deaf Active Quotes


The positive effect of these classes were not only felt by the participants but by trainers also.

We asked each trainer about their Deaf Active Online experience.

We asked the several of the deaf trainers how useful they found Deaf Active online?

“I certainly find it easier and more accessible to use Deaf Active Online. It offers a chance for Deaf people all throughout the UK to do online activities. For instance, Deaf people struggle with communication and awareness at the gym. However, Deaf Active Online makes it easier because some of them are familiar with other deaf people and want to feel part of the group and boost their confidence.”
Jamie Fuller
Personal Trainer sport therapist

What are the other benefits of using Deaf Active Online?

“I have not had much experience working/training with deaf people, although I have many deaf friends, but it doesn’t give me the same experience. Deaf Active Online gave me the opportunity to gain real experience of working with deaf people and I really loved it. There were hardly any communication barriers between me and my participants because I was able to speak as well as using BSL. I felt my ability to communicate via those two methods has given my deaf participants positive workout experiences. Also, working with deaf people with different levels of hearing loss has taught me a lot about how to adapt my role to ensure they all receive the same experience and support from my sessions.”
Rebecca Zelic
Personal Trainer sport therapist

Have you found any barriers when accessing online exercise? What are these?

“I don’t have any barriers to accessing online. I think it’s the other way round. I don’t have any barriers to using Deaf Active online. It has been a positive experience for me. Before the covid-19 pandemic, there were a lot of barriers. However, with Deaf Active Online, there are access, communication, and deaf people in the community across the UK. Of course, I would like to meet people face-to-face, but there's an alternative way to meet them on Zoom.”
Alexy Dury
Running Instructor

What advice would you give to people that are looking to take part in an online activity programme like Deaf Active Online?

“The good thing about Deaf Active Online is that it is free to join for deaf individuals. There are several opportunities for them to participate in various activities at various times. It's always nice to meet other deaf individuals, because when I offer the session, some deaf people know each other from school and haven't seen each other since the pandemic. They were able to see each other because they were both deaf and engaged online, which was wonderful. Also, Deaf Active online helps deaf people gain confidence, because when we were in lockdown, deaf people experienced challenges. Some deaf people, for example, have hearing family members with whom they struggle to communicate. However, with the deaf active online, deaf people will have a deaf role model to look up to and to be with.”
Billy Read
Dance instructor


Overall the development and growth of Deaf Active Online has made a positive impact for those involved, by filling the gap in the sector and providing a much needed accessible form of online physical activity for deaf people to be involved in. All this was only possible due the flexibility of Comic Relief during the pandemic and their continued support in the project. 

UKDS continues to reflect and learn from everything we do including this data; the interactions with audiences both digitally and in person to shape and influence how we take forward the main strands of our work; Leadership, Participation and Performance.

As we start to understand what our new ‘normal’ will look like, we look forward to leading the way and continuing our support to get every deaf person active and inspired by sport and physical activity.  

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