At the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), we strongly believe that change starts with sport. By organising the world’s third biggest sport event in the Paralympic Games and supporting our 200+ members to develop Para sport and invest in Para athletes, we have seen first-hand how Para sport can transform lives and create opportunities for persons with disabilities at all levels of society.
The rights of people with disabilities to participate fully in society, including sport, is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). However, stigma towards people with disabilities often results in their exclusion from education, employment and health services, amongst other things.
With approximately 80% of the global population with disabilities living in developing countries, the socioeconomic impacts of this exclusion are significant and exacerbate existing inequalities. To tackle these issues, the IPC focuses its work in three key areas: developing members, reducing stigma and advocacy.
To grow access to Para sport globally, from grassroots to high-performance level, the IPC provides organisational and sport development opportunities for its members, most notably through our National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Development Programme, powered by Toyota.
Stronger NPCs lead to an improved offer of Para sport at a national level and increase the number of people living active, healthy lives. Participating in Para sport not only changes how the individual with disabilities sees themselves, but also changes how their families, communities and governments view them, thus creating a paradigm shift from disability to ability. Creating this paradigm shift is a particularly important advocacy tool in societies where government funding for Para sport is lacking.
The performances of athletes involved in Para sport are a powerful tool for tackling stigma towards disabilities. When billions watch the Paralympic Games and see an athlete do something remarkable, it is impossible for them not to favourably change their perceptions of disability.
Apart from the Paralympics, the IPC implements targeted initiatives aimed at reducing stigma. I’mPOSSIBLE, the IPC’s global education programme, is a school-based initiative for learners with and without disabilities, that uses participation in Para sport and the Paralympic values to enhance inclusion. Since 2017, over 200,000 youngsters in 15 countries have participated in I’mPOSSIBLE around the world, with students and learners alike reporting improved attitudes towards people with disabilities after taking part.
The recently launched Para Sports Against Stigma project, in partnership with Loughborough University, aims at tackling discrimination and stigma in order to increase assistive technology adoption in Ghana, Malawi and Zambia through a four-pillar approach: Paralympic education, Para sport development, Paralympic broadcast and research. The project is part of the Global Disability Innovation Hub’s programme called AT 2030 – Life Changing Assistive Technology for All, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO).
Although sport is a powerful tool to change attitudes, increase mobility and create opportunities for the world’s one billion persons with disabilities, the IPC alone cannot change the world for disabled people. That is why we are creating partnerships with several organisations who share our passion for driving social inclusion.
In 2019 we signed a historic Statement of Intent with the UN SDG Action Campaign, committing to increase the visibility of the SDGs throughout the Paralympic Movement and at upcoming Paralympic Games, whilst helping to change the narrative of disability. The IPC is also a steering group member of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s initiative to measure sport’s contribution to the SDGs. Better data on how sport impacts society will inform future strategy and investment in sport at the national and international level.
More recently, in September 2020, the IPC joined forces with the International Disability Alliance, committing to work together on mutually beneficial inclusive communications campaigns, as well as collaborating on major events such as the IPC Inclusion Summit and Global Disability Summit. Exploring areas of shared interest around strategy, policy development, research and communication will also form part of the partnership.
Call to action
Access to sport for people with disabilities is a fundamental right that must be realised and protected. To do this, we need societies that foster access and opportunity, allow for participation and build equity. We need investment in inclusive design processes and assistive technologies, bringing together the opinions of diverse stakeholders. While we know that sport is not the only solution to this, we believe it has a lot to contribute. Join us this 3 December in stating: Change Starts with Sport.
Ciara Cribben is the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager of the IPC’s Membership Programmes Division. Ciara joined the team in 2017 and, since then, has been instrumental in creating a culture of impact and evidence-based decision-making.