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Accessibility

Copyrights: Michael Rosenkrantz

Accessibility

How can we approach accessibility and inclusivity in sports in a way that empowers people with disabilities? Michael Rosenkrantz discusses his experiences of working in the field of adaptive sports.

Accessibility and sensitivity to accessibility has very different meanings depending upon what one can see and experience. I’ve been very fortunate in having learned about accessibility when I lived in India and Nepal from 2009–16. But then being able to pay more attention when I came back to the US has also enabled me to form stronger opinions and to see the possibilities.

My journey to understanding accessibility

Prior to 2009 I wasn’t very sensitive to accessibility for people with disability. Once I started working/volunteering in India with the Government of India, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment National Trust, my perspective changed.

While in Nepal from 2012–16 I was injured twice playing basketball and used crutches to get around. For the people that I knew in Kathmandu who used a wheelchair, pushing through the streets was incredibly difficult. I’m not really sure how they dealt with this except that there were few alternatives.

In 2016 I came back to the US and acquired a greater understanding of accessibility, at least from an able-bodied US perspective.

Experiences with accessibility in Israel

According to the NGO Access Israel , over 1.6 million people with disabilities live in Israel today (18% of the population). My expectation of Israel was that accessibility would be similar to the US.

The first hotel that we stayed at had rooms that were very accessible. But after a little while, along with our wheelchair basketball players, I began to notice things such as “handicapped” parking, with no curb cut except at the front door of the hotel but the lack of a push button on “accessible” entrances. One of our athletes needed a day chair as he wasn’t able to bring his from the US. Although we tried numerous times to obtain a day chair that he could push, he was provided with a hospital chair.

One morning, Mo, Seth, Ted, our Team Manager, and I had an early practice, after which we went to Caesarea. After lunch, which was on a hill and in which we had to carry the “hiking chairs,” we decided to go hiking. I thought that the hike would be a fairly flat surface, with the use of hiking chairs making it easy to enjoy an inclusive hike. This was my assumption, but wasn’t the case.

The “hiking chairs” were more like chariots that had to be pulled and carried, and the trail had numerous embedded rocks and was steep in many places. We had some younger basketball players, who helped with the chariots. We only made it 0.3 miles on the trail when we decided to turn back.

The hike was an “aha” moment for me, in which contradicting definitions of accessibility came into play. I so appreciated the intent of making this an inclusive hike, enabling the athletes to participate with everyone else.

To me, accessibility means providing an opportunity for a person with disability to enjoy, in this case a hike, the ability to push on their own with limited help, i.e., empowerment. Possibly a discussion prior to having the hike would have made sense so that we all had input as to whether or not this would work. More than anything else, this proved to be a learning moment for all of us.

Language is also a very important consideration and needs to be respected – we often misspeak when we don’t know the proper terminology. When I contracted COVID, I was quarantined and given an envelope with my room key. I was taken aback by the word “handicap” basketball, because I was working with athletes with disabilities. If anything, when able-bodied people play wheelchair basketball, we are the ones who are definitely “handicapped”.

When I finally made it to Jerusalem, Mo’s chair had been replaced with a ‘new’ one, except that it was very old. I think that it was easier for him to push, although the wheels were almost bald, but the chair did have metal spokes, something which we had been requesting.

My purpose in writing this piece has been to further educate myself and also hopefully expand perspectives on accessibility. I certainly don’t have all the answers, since I am a constant student myself and given that I work in adapted sports, in the disability field. My hope is that I’ve added to the conversation about what accessibility means and how we might dig a little deeper to level the playing field.

I always see room for discussion and improvement, but I am looking at this from my currently able body and also from what I think the athletes that I have the honor to coach experience. I welcome any feedback about other perspectives and how we continue to make progress.

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Published

Thursday, August 25, 2022 - 19:14

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