Involving deaf-blind individuals in sport in Georgia
Involving deaf-blind individuals in sport in Georgia
The deaf-blind community in Georgia has been raising awareness about their disabilities and fighting to make sport events like football more inclusive for them, as players and spectators.
Inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport is a challenging task in Georgia. However, the efforts undertaken at the national level have already led to outstanding achievements in judo, powerlifting, swimming and wheelchair fencing.
In 2019 a historic event took place in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. The first-ever European Amputee Football Federation (EAFF) Champions League tournament was held, with football teams from 8 countries participating in “a new era in amputee club football.” It was organized by EAFF and the Georgian Football Federation (GFF).
Despite some positive changes, one group of persons with disabilities has stayed invisible in sporting and public life. It is a group of people with simultaneous complex visual and hearing impairments. Deaf-blindness has not yet been recognized as a separate unique impairment at the official level by the Georgian government and official institutions.
Polish organization HumanDoc foundation, in cooperation with local organizations and the ombudsman office, has worked hard to raise awareness about this group. Now, an established Georgian Deafblind Union unites four non-formal deaf-blind persons’ clubs operating in Telavi, Tbilisi, Zugdidi, and Batumi.
The deaf-blind community of Georgia, step by step, is getting institutionalized and is trying to attract the attention of the wider public and actors working in different directions. On 7 November 2020, a webinar discussion on “access for everyone” was organized, as part of the #FootballPeoples week, an annual event held by FARE against racism and discrimination in Europe.
The webinar’s focus of discussion was on the access of persons with sensory impairment (deaf, blind, and deaf-blind) for football and sport in general. Speakers – representatives of the deaf-blind community of Georgia and Georgian Football Federation – discussed the current situation in accessing football, both as players and spectators.
A representative from a self-organization of persons with disabilities interested in sport from Poland was also part of the panel. They presented the example of the National Polish Disabled Supporters Association and Society and their support for deaf-blind persons in Gdansk.
A representative of Deafblind Club in Tbilisi, Elene Paichadze – who is also the mother of two girls with simultaneous hearing and visual impairments – underlined the importance of physical activities for deaf-blind persons, as it helps them to develop spatial awareness, raise their self-confidence and make their movements clearer.
Leila Matsatso Khachapuridze, the founder of the civil society organization Union of Wolfram Syndrome (a specific disease that causes gradual loss first of hearing and then vision), mentioned that for her personally and other beneficiaries of the organization, regular and simple physical activities are vital to slow down the progression of the disease. “I always urge members of our organization to be active, to go for a walk. We have to consider that not all exercises are allowed for us. I have never been in a football stadium, but I was always interested in how it looks. Some boys (our beneficiaries) used to play football before their hearing and visual conditions worsened, and they still love the game and dream to watch a real football match”.
With the support of CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe), audio descriptive services were provided in Dinamo Tbilisi Stadium in 2016; the equipment was bought, and special interpreters were trained.
But only audio-description is not enough for deaf-blind persons. A special assistant needs to explain what is happening on the football pitch using tactile signing methods to describe the game. Elene Paichadze says: “We have trained the group of guide-interpreters according to international standards to accompany deaf-blind person on the stadiums, but I think that there is need for additional special training for them, as such a great game requires knowledge of some terms and personal interest in football. Without personal passion it is not possible to describe emotions and to capture the atmosphere on the football match.”
Mamuka Kvartskhelia, GFF Founder and Head of Stadiums Department, said that there is no special staff responsible for work with persons with disabilities so far. Still, GFF is always trying to consider making games more inclusive, both during official plays and during grassroots programs and projects, like the Open Fun Football Schools. He also expressed interest in collaborating directly with representatives of the deaf-blind community to understand their needs and plan a systematic approach towards the involvement of persons with disabilities in general.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made life for deaf-blind persons even more complicated and isolated. Nevertheless, there is a need to invent new forms of activity and new sport games to play for them, so that they can be a visible and active part of society.
Dr. Olga Dorokhina is a researcher, consultant, and the Program Manager of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Georgian Committee (hCa GNC) in Tbilisi.