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Including persons with disabilities through table tennis

Copyrights: International Table Tennis Federation Foundation

Including persons with disabilities through table tennis

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation is building inclusive table tennis programs to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to participate in the sport.

For us at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation, table tennis, it is not just about including persons with disabilities in the sport, but using the sport to break down both physical and mental barriers. We want to ensure persons with and without disabilities alike are part of the solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems and achieving the SDGs. Through our programs, we hope to put abilities forward, offer a fun safe space to challenge bias and open minds to inclusive design.

At the ITTF, we have a long history of leadership that is committed to inclusion, including the governance of para table tennis within the federation since July 2007. Since then, ITTF is the recognised governing body for para table tennis and is responsible for all rules and regulations pertaining to para table tennis, including classifications. Beyond performance however, the sport has shown very successful development initiatives, such as the Smash Down Barriers program in Oceania.

Furthermore, through the ITTF Foundation, we work with people whose quality of life would improve by their participation in table tennis. All the projects of the ITTF Foundation, those we implement and those we support through the Dream Building Fund, commit to be inclusive, and each project targets a specific SDG.  

Between 2015-2019, the ITTF Foundation supported one of its biggest projects aimed at the inclusion of persons with disabilities, TT4nepal. The project successfully expanded para table tennis across Nepal and raised awareness and built social inclusion locally. The project held the weekly training of over 200 persons with disabilities and is now organizing tournaments through local government grants.

In 2019 we received support from the AGITOS Foundation to develop our refugee program, specifically targeting persons with disabilities in the Azraq and Zaatari camps in Jordan. One of our biggest challenges in the camps remains access to the centres – buses have to be organised, which means players are dependent on transport to attend sessions.

We also support a project in Hoima, Uganda, which offers education and table tennis as an incentive to children with and without disabilities. The project in Alkmaar, Netherlands, is looking to include persons with disabilities in their club decision making level. Further, in 2021, we will support the Smash Down Barriers program in Tonga.

Accessibility is not optional – it is about inclusion, diversity, and human rights, but also design. In terms of providing access, we know we could do more, and we are taking steps forward in the right direction.

We are learning but we know we could improve in making our programs more inclusive form the start, starting with the design phase. Once we overcome the issues of transport, accessibility and cultural perceptions, we have seen how participants benefit from sport, and the difference sport makes in a participant’s life. Further, the community also changes its perceptions, as it sees them grow their skills.  

We hope that we will be able to keep raising awareness, shinning the light on examples of good practice, and support project leaders who want to make a difference in this field. We hope to receive more projects offering to improve quality of life of persons with disabilities and bring solutions to accessibility for the next Dream Building Fund call.

Karine Teow is a Field Programmes Manager at ITTF Foundation. She oversees the Dream Building and Legacy programs.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]

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Thursday, November 26, 2020 - 06:20