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Less barriers, more inclusion opportunities for athletes with disabilities: Perspectives from Latin America

Copyrights: Ecuadorian Paralympic Committee

Less barriers, more inclusion opportunities for athletes with disabilities: Perspectives from Latin America

Carolina Recalde explains the barriers that athletes with disabilities face in Latin America, focusing on Ecuador and Guatemala.

The practice of sports is a right for every person, including people with disabilities. However, this group faces many internal and external barriers that do not allow them to claim their rights.  

One barrier is the lack of adequate infrastructure adapted to their needs. In the case of Ecuador, the Paralympic Committee and the corresponding sports federations for people with disabilities have to rely on the support of third parties to use their facilities, most of which do not offer the proper conditions. “The problem is that the authorities that do not work with people with disabilities do not understand the challenges that they face and the special needs of our athletes”, states Patricia Leon, President of the Ecuadorian Paralympic Committee.

A second obstruction is related to economic constraints. The Ecuadorian Paralympic Committee manages two kinds of budgets provided by the National Sports Secretariat: one that allows them to carry on the annual operation plan and another that is for the implementation of the high-performance program.

However, it is not enough. They have only been able to assist 36 athletes with disabilities and cover only 6 of the 24 provinces of the country. Thus, there remain many unattended athletes and territories. Moreover, there are other Latin America nations such as Guatemala that do not even have this kind of economic support and autonomy.

“The focus of sport always prioritizes care for people without disabilities; therefore financial support for international participation is limited and difficult to get”, affirms Juan Diego Blas, Paralympic athlete, current Sport for Social Development Chief of the Olympic Committee of Guatemala and Co-founder of United Play International.

A large obstacle is the perceptions that both people with and without disabilities have. On one hand, there are people with disabilities that don’t acknowledge their capabilities and think that they can’t achieve their dreams and can’t play sports. Discriminatory practices that they face daily only reinforce these thoughts.  

On the other hand, there are many people without disabilities that have prejudices regarding the abilities and talents of people and athletes with disabilities. They do not take the time to be well informed and aware that a person with a disability requires some specific needs. Such perceptions often come from parents and relatives of athletes with disabilities, who then overprotect them and keep them in a bubble, not giving them the space and freedom that they require and deserve.   

“Discrimination begins in the mind and the population must be sensitized to eliminate taboos and stereotypes that only serve to hurt. Everyone must understand that people with disabilities are still citizens with rights and obligations who can do many things,” says Patricia, who is struggling to raise awareness in the Ecuadorian population and authorities.

Education is a must in this process. Education must start at home and then be reinforced in schools from the earliest stages of life, providing information but also awareness-raising spaces regarding the rights and duties of people with disabilities and the proper treatment towards them. This is also applicable in the sports arena, where their right to practice sports must be acknowledged, respected and fulfilled.

Something that Juan Diego said that could help in this process is the implementation of Paralympic education projects at the national level in order to “create greater interest in the participation of people with disabilities and greater involvement of people without disabilities.”

The path towards the inclusion of people and athletes with disabilities is riddled with barriers. However, a change in the attitudes and actions of all citizens in a country can help us overcome these barriers and create a fertile ground where people with disabilities can thrive. This includes economic and technical support from the government and other public and private institutions. It is possible for us to change our minds and give room to athletes with disabilities to show their talents and to realize their rights and dreams.

Carolina Recalde is the Partnerships Coordinator at FUDELA, an Ecuadorian NGO. She has more than 10 years of experience in communications, public relations, cooperation and sports for development.

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Carolina Recalde

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Friday, November 27, 2020 - 16:48