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The challenges and responsibilities of para-athletes


The challenges and responsibilities of para-athletes

Anjali Forber-Pratt, Paralympian from the USA, reflects on the main challenges for people with disabilities entering the sporting arena and the responsibility of athletes to leave a social and sporting legacy

sportanddev: What do you perceive as the main challenges for people with disabilities entering the sporting arena?

I believe the main challenge is overcoming the potential cultural stigmas associated with disability. Until this is addressed, it is difficult for a person with a disability interested in sport to gain access to coaching and to even participate or compete.

In some nations or environments, there are often stigmas surrounding disability that commonly prevent individuals with disabilities from full participation in society, let alone sport. Sport can, however, be used as a catalyst for social change.

If an individual with a disability who has an interest in sport can partner with a sport club or coach for the mainstream sport, then he or she gains the respect and support from that sporting community. Through inclusion, people living with a disability then have allies and a network of support to acquire necessary equipment or to join training sessions and compete.

sportanddev: What were the reasons behind your community outreach work and the children’s educational colouring book?
There were many times in my life when I could have given up on myself, such as when educators gave up on me and told me that I could not go to college because I had a disability or when I was banned from participating in gym class from the fifth grade on. I now do what I can to make sure that children with disabilities know about the opportunities that exist for them to participate in sport. I also believe there is a responsibility I have as an athlete within the Olympic and Paralympic movements to leave a legacy.

I co-authored a children’s educational coloring book called All About Sports: For Athletes with Physical Disabilities. The book features four different sports: wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, sled hockey and downhill skiing and includes activities that teachers can use.

To me, this book is as much an educational tool as much for the young child with a disability as it is for his/her peers and teachers to learn about what is possible. Nothing like this existed when I was a child, and I believe that the best way to change perceptions is through education.

Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt is an accomplished Paralympic medalist in wheelchair racing and a current London 2012 hopeful. She serves on the Board of Directors for Disabled Sports USA and has been involved with sport and policy work in Bermuda, Ghana and India.


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Tom Vahid


Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 00:00