Including persons with disability in sport
Including persons with disabilities in surfing
Combining research, practice and activism, we are including persons with disabilities in the surfing world, attempting to raise awareness, reduce social barriers, and teach adaptive surfing.
Denise de Siqueira – surfer, athlete, researcher
Denise de Siqueira is an adaptive surfing athlete and a member of the Surf and Sustainability Research Group (SandS), a multidisciplinary research group founded by Marcos Bosquetti at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Florianópolis Island, in southern Brazil.
Denise focused her thesis for an MSc in Architecture and Urbanization on accessible beaches and adaptive surfing in Brazil under the research co-supervision of Professor Bosquetti. This is the first research on this topic conducted in Brazil.
During the fieldwork, Denise visited 15 beaches in three states of Brazil, checking – on her wheelchair – the accessibility and infrastructure of the beaches considered accessible, as well as the two community initiatives working towards the social inclusion of persons with disabilities in surfing in Brazil: the NGO Adaptsurf in Rio de Janeiro, and Programa Surf Inclusivo (Inclusive Surf Program) in Santos.
Together, Denise and Marcos have presented papers and published articles in international events and academic journals on the social inclusion of persons with disabilities in surfing, as well as contributed as guest speakers of local and regional community and sport events related to social innovation and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport.
In terms of practice and activism, Denise de Siqueira is a good example of social inclusion and adaptive surfing. Denise started learning how to surf in 2016 at Surf Sem Fronteiras (Surfing Without Frontiers) – an NGO that she helped to establish, in partnership with the local community, beach lifeguards, and volunteers from UFSC.
As an insider activist, Denise started a social movement to include the female category in the regional and national adaptive surfing championships in 2017. In 2018, the Brazilian Federation of Surfing included the female adaptive surfing category. From 2018 to 2019, Denise participated in five adaptive surfing championships, winning three of them, including the national one. In March 2020, Denise represented Brazil in the 2020 International Surfing Association (ISA) World Para Surfing Championship.
There are many barriers we face while working to include persons with disabilities in surfing, including:
- Social barriers due to ableism, i.e. the discrimination of and social prejudice against persons with disabilities
- The lack of enforcement of existing policies and laws, such as the Brazilian Law of Inclusion of Persons with Disability, which determines that urban projects must meet the principles of universal design, which entails that spaces should be inclusive for all people, without the need for adaption
- Not enough public investment in projects and initiatives to promote the social inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport
To overcome these challenges, we generate and share knowledge to raise awareness and reduce discrimination and social prejudice, so that we can engage the community in a bottom-up approach to make a change. Ideally, we would like to have more resources to invest in media campaigns and training persons with disabilities, and to organize more regional adaptive sport events to promote social inclusion.
We understand that the persons with disabilities are the change-makers; however, engaging the local stakeholders (the community, municipality, sports associations, coaches, and universities) is key to empower the movement for including persons with disabilities in sports through a bottom-up approach, especially in developing countries.
Our experience in Brazil shows that sport for development organizations are doing good but could be more proactive in including persons with disabilities in their programs.
We have federal laws for the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, but we lack specific laws and policies for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport; therefore, sports federations and governments should work proactively on this matter. Sports federations should explore the power of social media as a tool for including persons with disabilities in sport.
We also understand that the inclusion of women in sport has also contributed to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in surfing and other outdoor sports. Indeed, any type of initiative to promote human rights and reduce racism, sexism, and ableism contribute to the social inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport.
Denise de Siqueira, MSc., is an adaptive surf athlete in the Para Surf Prone 1 category. She represented Brazil at the 2020 ISA World Para Surfing Championship at La Jolla, California. She is a research member of SandS – Surf and Sustainability Research Group at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). She represents UFSC in the Accessibility Committee of the Brazilian National Standards Organization (ABNT). Denise is one of the founders of the inclusive surfing NGO Surf Sem Fronteiras (Surf Without Frontiers). She is one of the leaders of Route-Brasil, the largest Brazilian enviro-surf NGO.
Marcos Bosquetti, PhD., is a full-time professor in the Socioeconomic Center of the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and the founder and coordinator of SandS – Surf and Sustainability Research Group, the first multidisciplinary research group on this topic in Latin America. Marcos is a visiting professor at the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University, California, USA and is a member of the International Association for Surfing Researchers. In the last 10 years at UFSC, Marcos has coordinated 38 outreach social projects on education, health, sports and citizenship, engaging more than 2,000 university students in initiatives to promote the social inclusion of young people.
Umoya sports: Perspectives from India
Umoya Sports is an Indian non-profit that works with children with disabilities. Responding to the COVID-19 lockdown, they launched their Ability Spark program, an inclusive digital physical education program for all children (disabled and non-disabled), focused on developing the overall physical and mental well-being through fun outcome-based sports and physical education activities.
Only 1 in 5 children with disabilities play sports with their friends. This challenge reflects in other aspects of their lives, and, unfortunately, out of 40 - 80 million people with disabilities in India, 46% are uneducated, 39% drop out from school and 63% of them are unemployed.
We have identified 3 specific challenges faced by Students with Disabilities (SwD) leading to this crisis, which we refer as ‘Inclusive Education crisis:’
1. Lack of quality programs providing holistic development to students with disabilities in schools. There is also a lack of teachers in private and public schools that are equipped to work with SwD
2. Lack of social skills development, because of social stigma and misconceptions about disabilities, making it difficult for SwD to integrate into society. Lack of awareness about and empathy toward people with disabilities creates barriers for SwD
3. Lack of physical education and physical activity leads to various subsequent physical and mental health issues. Unfortunately, SwD are frequently left out, be it in school or communities, and often do not participate in sports or physical education, either due to lack of accessibility or because they are neglected or denied from participating
Moreover, with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, families with young children have faced a range of challenges. With schools closed and no play for children, young children face a range of challenges, including ensuring continued access to holistic and social-emotional education.
These challenges have compounded even more for children with disabilities, especially given the inability to continue to access therapy, special ed or other vital medical care; resulting in the widening of the learning gap and critical need to meaningfully engage all children to remain physically and mentally active.
Responding through play to COVID-19
Families and children with disabilities find it hard to put their child into programmes and the current pandemic has compounded the challenges for them.
One parent told us that the long lockdown made her child depressed and he gained too much weight. He stopped talking, and his anxiety levels had increased.
Another parent told us: “My child has hypotonia (low muscle tone) and balance and coordination issues. She needs physical therapy daily otherwise her muscles will waste. We used to call a physiotherapist home earlier, but this has stopped due to pandemic.”
Keeping our children’s well-being at the center and to make play more accessible, we launched Ability Spark, an at-home play and wellbeing program.
Ability Spark is an inclusive digital physical education program for all children (whether disabled or non-disabled), with the focus on developing overall physical and mental well-being through yoga and fun outcome-based sports and physical education activities. We aim to ensure that all children continue to engage in relevant, age, and skill-appropriate play and fitness activities from their homes. Our life-skills and foundation academic skills mapped play program ensure that the fun and learning continue during these times
The Ability Spark program integrates STEM based early childhood education concepts such as basics of literacy, numeracy and pre-numeracy skills and basic life-skills such as body parts, colours, shapes, directions and patterns through fun play-based education.
The primary goals of Ability Spark program are:
- To educate learners in a manner that enables them to integrate play and exercise in their daily life while focusing on developing 5 fundamental development skills in children, including motor coordination, strength and endurance, balance and posture, agility and mindfulness
- To develop the cognitive skills of all children by building conceptual understanding of foundations of numeracy and literacy. The program aims to empower teachers and parents to replace traditional classroom teaching with play-based hands-on education
- To create a safe and inclusive social space for children with and without disabilities to interact and learn from each other while building empathy and joy. Through the buddy system, the program aims to build a culture of inclusion in classrooms enabling peer-led support systems for each child
We understand that every child is unique and has different learning style and learning abilities. Ability Spark makes learning fun and appropriate for every child. Ability Spark aims to serve as a toolkit for educators to ensure a physical and mental wellbeing of children through innovative program features such as:
- Videos: Each activity consists of pre-recorded videos, demonstrated and modelled by adapted sports mentors along with a child. These self-paced videos enable visual learners to watch, follow, play and learn the activity for maximum impact
- Instruction manuals: Every activity has extensive step-by-step instructions on how to perform the activity. The instruction card also highlights how that activity will build essential life skills in the child, thereby helping them in becoming independent
- Activity Adaptations: Differentiated learning practices for every activity through age, and skill-appropriate adaptations and variations depending on (dis)abilities of children are shared, making it inclusive for all children. There are also visual cues provided that encourages the child to play the activity independently
- Activity Worksheets: The worksheets are student reflection journals which track their activity performance along with academic and social-emotional learning
We have partnered with UNESCO India to implement the 3-month Ability Spark program. The program was free, and over 450 parents and 100 schools, organizations , NGOs and teachers subscribed for it, spread over more than 15 Indians states and 7 countries, enabling us to reach out to more than 10,000 children on a daily basis.
We gained the following insights from the post-program survey:
- 91% of participants rated their experience as 4 or above (out of 5)
- 96% of parents and teachers felt a sense of emotional wellbeing and an improvement in fundamental development skills of the children
- 83% of parents and teachers observed higher physical and play activeness in their child(ren)
- 86% of participants felt an improvement in motor skills and development skills
- 95% of parents and teachers showed interest in having a long-term annual program
Aditya K.V. is the Founder-CEO of Umoya Sports.
Challenging disability stigma across sub-Saharan Africa
The IPC and Loughborough University have collaborated on a project – Para Sport against Stigma – to develop the reach and impact of Paralympic sport across sub-Saharan Africa.
The Paralympic Games have been a powerful vehicle in stimulating progressive social change toward greater inclusion of disabled people within sport and wider cultural life. The Paralympic movement has established itself as a forerunner in the pursuit of a more inclusive world. Its impact has raised awareness of disability rights, advocated for equal opportunity, promoted the use of assistive technologies (AT) and challenged ableist assumptions that have contributed to the cultural stigma around disability.
However, Paralympic sport has yet to reach many low to middle income countries across the Global South, where stigma associated with disability continues to reinforce social exclusion, marginalisation, and a lack of investment in infrastructure for disability sport. Indeed, there is somewhat of a global divide when it comes to equal access of Para sport.
Despite over 160 countries competing in the Paralympic Games, only around 60 countries have Paralympic sport embedded in their sports systems. This global disparity in equality and access has been recognised by intergovernmental organisations, disability rights groups, and scholars and practitioners working within the field. It also presents the single biggest challenge for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), who aim to bring the Paralympic Games – starting with Tokyo 2020 - to Sub-Saharan Africa.
It is this challenge that has led to a partnership between Loughborough University, IPC and the University of Malawi, Chancellor College on a project entitled, ‘Para Sport against Stigma’. The project aims to develop the reach and impact of Paralympic sport across sub-Saharan Africa by harnessing the communicative and socially transformative power of Paralympic sport as a vehicle for challenging disability stigma.
It is part of AT2030, a programme funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIH) that aims to test ‘what works’ to improve access to Assistive Technology. Over the next four years (2020-24), the project will coordinate interdisciplinary action research within Gambia, Malawi and Zambia, working closely with local community groups, stakeholders, Universities, media organisations and National Paralympic Committees (NPC). It is a research approach that has collaboration with local communities and organisations at its core, to enable better understanding and perspective on how Paralympic sport can be localised and have effective, relevant and sustainable impact.
The research is built upon 3 pillars of activity that connect Paralympic broadcasting and media with community engagement and the development of Paralympic sport pathways. Some key activities include, for example: working with national broadcasters and the IPC to localise and adapt highlights of the Tokyo Paralympic Games to suit community radio – an important, accessible and trusted media source that spans social class and urban/rural divides – and the inclusion of Paralympic stories from national athletes. Community education and theatre, as important sites of knowledge reproduction, will bring these stories to life and help challenge dominant disability narratives. In addition, the IPC will work to support NPC’s with development toolkits, designed to establish and maintain effective pathways towards international competition for grassroots athletes and coaches.
The project is an important platform for the growth of para sport in parts of the Global South. It is, however, not without its challenges. Disability concerns differences in ability, and we must recognise the varying perspectives and reservations held by those that live with these differences as we work to combat the stigma that has been identified.
The provision and quality of AT fluctuates across the urban and rural landscape and this must be addressed effectively through the adaption of Paralympic media content. In particular, stigma at the intersection of gender and disability requires consideration, and this project offers an important opportunity to better understand the complex socio-economic inequalities and relations that underpin the lives of many disabled women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using the power of para sport, this project hopes to establish yet more foundations, upon which we can build a fairer and more prosperous world for those with a disability.
Dr Emma Pullen is a lecturer in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. Her main research interests include disability, gender, culture, and media.
Sam Ruddock is a two-time Paralympian that debuted for Great Britain in track and field athletics at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. After Rio 2016, he is now focusing on track cycling for Tokyo 2020. Alongside his preparations for Japan, he is a physical education and school sport coordinator in primary/elementary education.
Jennie Wong is a sport practitioner with expertise designing and managing inclusive sport programmes on a global scale. She is currently the project manager for Para Sport Against Stigma at Loughborough University London.
Dignity for all through sports
The U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division—housed in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)—taps into the power of sports to open doors in hard-to-reach places, and engages communities at the grassroots level.
Our U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division—housed in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)—taps into the power of sports to open doors in hard-to-reach places, and engages communities at the grassroots level. We know that sports can be a strategic platform to champion our foreign policy priorities including conflict resolution, gender equality, health & wellness, and the theme of this article: disability rights.
The Sports Diplomacy Division serves as the linchpin between American sports entities and U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world to manage four pillars: Sports Envoys, Sports Visitors, the International Sports Programming Initiative, and the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP: espnW and GSMP: Sport for Community).
Every day of every year, disability rights lead as a priority for the U.S. Department of State and our bureau supports programs that spread global lessons of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With the ADA’s 30th anniversary this July, we continue to celebrate this national U.S. civil rights legislation banning discrimination against people with disabilities.
The ADA—in tandem with other disability rights legislation—has led to the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life, including sports. While we still have hurdles to overcome in the United States, we seek change so that people with disabilities enjoy dignity and inclusion on an equal basis with others. Our office believes that disability sports showcase the importance of the ADA and maintain its momentum to promote accessibility.
Regardless of region or pillar, ADA lessons are embedded in all of our sports programs. We include an experiential disability sports component and ADA sessions in every exchange, whether or not adaptive sports and disability rights are the central themes. International and American participants often describe trying wheelchair rugby or unified Special Olympics basketball as the most memorable of activities.
One program explicitly focused on disability sports is the GSMP: Sport for Community. This five-week mentorship matches international leaders working in disability sports with professionals from U.S. organizations in this field. With the University of Tennessee as our partner, participants are coached in their development of action plans that increase sports opportunities for people with disabilities in their home countries.
Per an international GSMP delegate: “Being exposed to disability sports in the U.S. and learning about the ADA was a big lesson. Sport is a powerful way for people to show their abilities and get out into society, it’s how we get better as a community.” Listen to Marcos Lima, a blind advocate in Brazil, share his story.
Our Sports Diplomacy Division also works with U.S. Embassies on special initiatives related to disability rights. Leveraging the Paralympics or Special Olympics is often seen as more of a public diplomacy priority than spotlighting the Olympics or other mega-sporting events.
ECA exchange programs for international participants often require English skills. This requirement can hold back participation by persons with disabilities who do not have equal opportunities for English training. To address this issue, we offer sports-based programs that do not require English and provide foreign language and sign language interpretation.
With sign language interpretation, we have learned that even individuals from the same country or region may use different sign languages. Hence, we plan in advance so that interpretation from American Sign Language to other sign language(s) is as fluid as possible.
Possibly the most prevailing—albeit less tangible—challenges are misperceptions that people with disabilities cannot get in the game. Participation in sports is a concrete way to prove otherwise. Just as a young person can score in wheelchair basketball, so too can this person reach their full potential in school and the workplace.
In order to address misperceptions, our Paralympic Sports Envoy John Register underscores the importance of emphasizing that inclusion benefits everyone. Learn more from John Register and read a report that outlines how disability inclusion enhances productivity.
The key to success
To share lessons of the ADA with international exchange participants, we rely on the expertise of American organizations and individuals across the country. We find that involving disability serving organizations and people with disabilities in design, implementation, and follow-up is an effective way to lead by example and communicate the hurdles and triumphs of inclusion in the United States.
We always ask delegates with disabilities to offer suggested improvements—which propels us toward more of a “human centered design” approach in planning and implementing our programs.
The impact of COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, we re-designed our 2020 disability sports programs as virtual exchanges and have been enthused by the bonds that we can still build through technology. Relatedly, we believe that innovation and technology present opportunities for the future of disability sports. From experiences, we know that adaptive and innovative technologies like racing wheelchairs and tandem bikes level the playing field, and remote video chats and on-line networks open opportunities for the future of disability sports.
Want to know more about us? Here are some resources:
- A recording from our Sports Diplomacy Division’s collaboration with Laureus Sport for Good USA during which Ann Cody of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's Office of International Disability Rights made remarks
- We also share a follow-on collection of resources from the event
- Lastly we flag our GSMP “Do It Yourself” series by the University of Tennessee on adaptive sports equipment
Trina Bolton is a program officer at the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division
Wheelchair tennis: Altering perceptions, changing the discourse on disabilities in rural India
In Anantapur, an economically backward and poverty-stricken district in Andhra Pradesh, India, the power of sport is being harnessed for the benefit of the children with locomotor disabilities.
Poverty and disability, a concoction of this misfortune is an undeserving bane of life for any child. Children with disabilities born into underprivileged sections of the society are perhaps most deprived of opportunities, often facing the stigma, discrimination and negative perceptions which exclude them from education and community life, depriving them of opportunities necessary to their social and economic development. Persons with physical disabilities are often seen in Indian society as liabilities and dependent due to their restricted mobility.
There is a striking need for a change in the social perception of the children with disabilities in the rural communities of India, where disabled children are looked down as a “punishment for the wrongdoings of families”.
Sport has the power to influence these perceptions of the society, reduce stigma and transcend the socio-cultural barriers in the society. In Anantapur, an economically backward, drought-prone, poverty-stricken district in Andhra Pradesh, this power of sport is being harnessed for the benefit of the children with locomotor disabilities.
Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), a sport for development initiative in collaboration with Rural Development Trust (RDT), Fundacion Rafa Nadal and Ashta Foundation’s Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour (IWTT) started the wheelchair tennis program in Anantapur for children with disabilities.
Tennis as a sport is perceived to be the sport of the rich in India and elsewhere. Lack of access to quality infrastructure, equipment and coaching hamper access to sport in the rural and backward areas. In India, wheelchair tennis is rare, and only a few in society have access to it.
ASA joined forces with RDT and created a wheelchair tennis program for children with locomotor disabilities, giving them an opportunity to explore and enjoy the sport. In June 2019, the wheelchair tennis program started in Anantapur Sports Village (ASV), with 10 children (3 girls, 7 boys). Training sessions are held twice a week, and exercise sessions are held daily to strengthen their upper limbs. Regular training sessions include fun workouts, mobility training, and tennis coaching.
With the technical support of IWTT, two coaches from Nadal Educational and Tennis School (NETS) at ASV were specially trained to coach children in wheelchair tennis. Physical education teachers at RDT’s inclusive school help children exercise every morning.
“The sport did wonders to their confidence,” says Nanda Gopal, a physical education teacher. “I’ve seen their progress with my eyes, they are now more confident and fit. This sport is showing a very positive impact on the education, self-esteem and the overall attitude of the children,” he adds.
“The progress of these children has been radical. Not only physically, but also socially and emotionally. Before, they used to wait outside the court. Now they are eager to start and are not shy of anything or anyone,” says Dasharatha Ramudu, Director of Disability Inclusive Development, RDT.
Wheelchair tennis has boosted the confidence of the children, given them a passion to pursue sport and positively influenced them. “When I play tennis, I feel everything is possible,” says Ganesh, a player in the program. “I feel lucky to be part of the program,” adds D. Sirisha.
Through IWTT’s ‘The First Serve’ workshops, children in the program also had an opportunity to meet and train with Nalani Boub, an Indian-Swiss world ranking wheelchair tennis player. Today, she stands as a role model and an aspiration for these starters. The ASA-RDT wheelchair tennis program aims to send these athletes in national and international competitions.
This program is a testament to the transcendental power of sport and its inclusive nature. Programs like these are creating a positive impact in the lives of children with disabilities and changing the perceptions and discourse in the society on disabilities.
Ernest Abhishek Paul is the Communications Officer at Anantapur Sports Academy
Social inclusion and community participation of adults with intellectual disabilities
As more adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) are physically included in community life, the challenge of going beyond physical inclusion towards social inclusion becomes important. The participation of adults with ID in the community is a core ambition at Ginásio Clube Português.
Since its development in 1875, the concept of community participation has evolved through a number of periods: 1) isolation and segregation, 2) integration and inclusion and, more recently, 3) community participation.
Autonomy and involvement in decision-making, environmental quality, vocational services, availability of transport, greater family involvement and the availability of social support are a few examples of important factors needed to increase the community participation of adults with ID within the social responsibility program of Ginásio Clube Português.
Society has made progressive efforts to increase the community presence of adults with ID than, in fact, to facilitate their life within it. Simple “presence” in the community is an insufficient measure of social connection, and greater consideration should be given to the value of relationships with family members, opportunities for people with ID to contribute to the benefit of their communities and relationships with others with and without ID that they consider their friends.
International studies based on interviews with adults with ID report data worthy of attention:
- Most adults with ID have contact with at least one family member. However, the frequency of contact decrease with increasing age and severity of difficulties
- 75% never wrote, sent text messages, emails or used social media tools, to contact their family or friends
- 50% say that sometimes they feel alone
- Most have someone to trust. However, 75% report that their confidant is a professional
- Most have a hobby and interact socially in situations, such as eating out, going to church, shopping and going to the hairdresser and cinema, but rarely with people outside the institution and/or family
- Most are dependent on others for transportation and assistance to use community services, which is the biggest barrier to successful community participation.
Although there are several examples of success, the optimal amount, frequency, context and support structure for the social inclusion of adults with ID remain unknown. The Ginásio Clube Português, as a recognized non-profit public service institution, and a club with social purposes attentive to the inequalities of the most disadvantaged groups, created the program SPORTS4ALL in 2012, an inclusive community program with a specialized technical framework, based on an educational and therapeutic intervention for adults with ID. In 2016, with over 125 participants, SPORTS4ALL expanded to the exercise and health domain, offering health-related exercises to adults with ID.
In 2018, Ginásio Clube Português developed a partnership with the Lisbon City Council to run MOV'IN, a program aimed at promoting regular physical activity in adults with ID, motor or visual difficulties. Aware of the large number of barriers that these people face to be physically active, MOV'IN breaks down known barriers such as transportation, financial limitations, lack of social support, lack of access to equipment or other environmental resources to provide physical activities and specialized service providers to a total of 30 participants.
Despite these examples of structured supports in social inclusion, the concept of instructing mentors with ID and encouraging leadership remains an untapped idea in the development of meaningful relationships with community members with or without ID.
It was precisely for this purpose that Ginásio Clube Português developed the project SAME SAME with the support of the “Programa Nacional Desporto para Todos by the Instituto Português do Desporto e Juventude. SAME SAME promotes social inclusion through the instruction of 20 adults with ID to conduct activities in the exercise room for people with or without disabilities, through a 52-hour training plan for mentoring and encouraging leadership. Training includes content such as personal hygiene, autonomy, social skills, personal development, socio-work skills, physical exercise counseling and an internship.
By involving adults with ID as mentors, SAME SAME seeks to facilitate the connections of adults with ID with the community and to inspire other participants to their real capabilities by actively involving them in the growth and support of the community. The effectiveness of SPORTS4ALL, MOV’IN and SAME SAME is examined by the changes induced in the various dimensions of adaptive behavior and in the quality of life of the participants.
Although these programs contribute to the establishment of a new paradigm of social inclusion for adults with ID, the way to scale up the number of beneficiaries remains to be determined. It will require investment in training and hiring professionals specialized in promoting community and reciprocal interactions. Further, the costs for the public and even private sector for such development and/or reorientation of current investments need to be identified.
The Ginásio Clube Português, within the scope of its social responsibility program, will continue to develop support networks between partners, and will promote systematic skills training programs for the development and management of support for the social inclusion of people with ID.
Xavier Melo is the Head of the Research and Development Department of Ginásio Clube Português (GCP) and Coordinator of the GCP Lab, a scientific center of innovation and collaboration devoted to exercise, health and sports performance. He's an Assistant Professor at Escola Superior de Desporto de Rio Maior - Instituto Politécnico de Santarém and at Universidade Europeia in Lisbon. He holds a PhD in Physical Activity and Health (2015) and a master’s degree in Exercise and Health (2009), both at Faculdade de Motricidade Humana - Universidade de Lisboa (FMH-UL).
This article has been co-authored by Ana Louseiro and Sara Planche.
Kayaking, an inclusive sport
Kayaking is a sport that has been inclusive for people with disabilities for decades, in France. This has been possible not only because it is a very adaptable sport, but also because of efforts by the French government to incentivize the development of inclusive sporting activities.
For several years now, kayaking has been an inclusive sport. Competitive practice for inclusive kayaking is managed internationally. In many countries, the inclusive version of the sport is still managed by the regular kayaking federation. This is the case in France as well.
However, in France, an inclusive program has been in place since the 1990s. It has simultaneously working on developing technical adaptations and experimental practicing, while collecting content to develop the training of clubs’ sport instructors. This work was done in a collaborative fashion with the medical community.
The development of an inclusive kayaking program has been possible because the French state has developed strong incentives for the practice of inclusive sport in the recent years. Since January 2017, it has recognized the rights of 12 sport federations to internally develop the inclusive sports for people with disabilities.
Further, several financial schemes have also been devised to facilitate the development of inclusive sports. For example, hiring people trained as development officers at the departmental level has been promoted.
Kayaking is a relatively easy sport to include people with disabilities, as it is easily adaptable. Even before establishing any inclusive program, many people with disabilities were already practicing the sport. Having found appropriate and easy adaptations, they practiced in the same way as other kayakers.
Further, kayaking can also be a lucrative sport, by generating profits on tourist sites. These profits can then be used to facilitate the evolution of inclusive practice. Family members and athletes with disabilities can then help develop an inclusive kayaking site at places that have not yet become fully adaptable.
While all these developments have been made, the number of people with disabilities in sport has not increased at the rate expected. This can be due to a range of issues, including:
- The perception of sports as being risky
- The perception that sports are not accessible for people with disabilities
- The reluctance of some club instructors to welcome people with disabilities, due to a lack of knowledge or will
There are many more moves that can be made to develop inclusive sports for people with disabilities, including:
- Making sports inclusive in schools, and allowing children with disabilities to play sports from a young age
- Improving the links between disability-friendly structures and clubs that can accommodate people with disabilities
- Communicating stories of successful experiences
Further, there are many good practices that should be following by organizations wanting to make sports more inclusive, such as:
- Make equipment accessible to as many people as possible. In the case of kayaking and nautical clubs, this means ensuring access to water, and making wide and stable kayaks for people with disabilities or overweight people
- Clearly identify a volunteer at the club who is a reference point for people with disabilities and their families
- Clearly define the role of this volunteer referent and the ways in which they will be able to help the athletes and their families
- Include people with disabilities gradually and individually into the club, through adapted practice periods
Yann le Carrer has been a leader of the inclusive kayaking program in France, and served as a volunteer between 1991 and 2003. Currently, he is the head of classification for the French Canoe Federation and a technical classifier for the International Canoe Federation.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Including women with disabilities in leadership of sport organisations
Women with disabilities face the double marginalisation of being women and being disabled. It is important to have women with disabilities in leadership positions in sport organisations, in order to make organisations more inclusive spaces, Lombe Mwambwa writes.
It is largely acknowledged that women are underrepresented in the leadership of sport organisations; therefore several interventions at policy and programme levels are in place across the sports sector.
However, the underrepresentation of women with disabilities in sport leadership is largely unattended to. For example, in 2018, Boards of Olympic Committees and Sports Commissions across four countries in Southern Africa (Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) did not have women with disabilities on them, apart from one athlete representative. Women with disabilities were only in senior leadership positions in Paralympic Committees and school sport organisations for persons with disabilities.
Women with disabilities are often limited to organisations for persons with disabilities. The assumption that persons with disabilities can only lead organisations for persons with disabilities means opportunities for leadership in other sport organisations are not available. Since there are very few sport organisations for persons with disabilities and leadership in most organisations is dominated by men, women with disabilities are marginalised across all types of sport organisations.
Sport organisations are increasingly taking action to address women’s leadership participation, such as adopting organisation gender policies, supporting leadership development training and raising awareness to disrupt gender-based stereotypes and prejudice. These interventions have, so far, been inadequate, as they are limited to supporting women who are already in leadership positions, the majority of whom are without disabilities.
Leadership bodies such as committees and boards often draw membership based on experience, networks, and access to resources. However, for women with disabilities, their participation in leadership is hindered by stigma, evident in stereotypes in which disability is conflated with low competence or ability. Women with disabilities, therefore, have to work disproportionately harder to demonstrate or communicate that they are capable and qualified.
Inclusion efforts by sports organisations are mainly focused on persons with disabilities as service users or beneficiaries, and not as part of other organisation functions, such as leadership and governance. A practical step that sport organizations can take is an audit of the composition of their staff, volunteers and leadership team. This step can provide clear evidence of the gap in inclusion and a basis to begin to work on including persons with disability.
Expanding the participation of women with disabilities into leadership will contribute to meeting the rights to participate of persons with disabilities and it will also bring insights of persons with the lived experience of disability that can inform organizational changes for broader inclusion.
Inclusion in leadership can be hindered by organisational leadership cultures in which disability is perceived as costly to accommodate. For example, sign language or braille translation and infrastructure access among other accommodations are viewed as add-ons and not as a core part of organisation resources and planning. With some policy commitment, planning and resource considerations, these forms of accommodation can become part of the budgetary practices and culture of sport organisations.
Actions towards balanced representation of men and women in leadership has become normalized, as seen in governance audits and reports and communications in the sport sector. However, there is still very little accountability for inclusion of women with disabilities in leadership.
Inclusion is not yet seen as an organization wide endeavour, but as a target for the services organizations deliver like including more athletes or reaching more persons with disabilities with sports events. Therefore, strategic planning that sets clear specific goals for inclusion of persons with disabilities across the leadership, management, and administration of the sport organisation can be an important intervention.
Facilitating visibility of women leaders with disabilities can contribute to eroding stereotypes while offering role models to women with disabilities and to sport organisations. Media coverage can contribute to expanding this visibility. However, opportunities for presenting information about sport organizations, giving expert opinions and analyses remain disproportionately filled by men.
As a result, the few women leaders with disabilities are kept out of public view and their voices remain unheard. Sport organisations can work together with media organisation to deliberately ensure opportunities for representation of a diversity of women leaders as news and expert sources.
The ability to participate in all areas of society is not hindered by disability but by the limited opportunities and access due to the political, cultural, and environmental conditions. Therefore, these barriers can be eased through a combination of context relevant actions such as policy development, planning, training, research, and appropriate resource commitments. Inclusion of women with disabilities can become part of the culture of sport organisations as they pursue broader inclusion of women in leadership.
Lombe Mwambwa is Special Adviser at the National Organisation for Women in Sport Physical Activity and Recreation (NOWSPAR) in Zambia. This article is partly based on her doctoral research on experiences of women leaders within the African Union Sports Council Region 5 conducted at the University of Chichester, UK.
Invictus Viseu: A path to inclusion through sport
Invictus Viseu is a non-profit association with a mission to promote sport for all, located in the district of Viseu in Portugal.
Invictus Viseu is a non-profit association with a mission to promote sport for all, located in the district of Viseu in Portugal. The association was constituted in 2017, after conducting a survey on the types of sport that should be provided to the community in Viseu.
The data from the survey showed very little diversity of sports was being offered to people with disabilities. We thus put in major efforts in developing sport programs that improve the well-being of persons with disabilities.
Since 2017, we have developed the following sport programs:
- Regular sports services, focused on child motricity, adapted physical exercise, and adaptation to the aquatic environment
- Adapted sports, focused on adapted athletics, polybat, wheelchair handball, adapted swimming, adapted karate
- Physical exercise programs directed to specific groups, like prisoners and people with mental illnesses
Overall, these programs aim to provide regular access to the practice of physical activity, accompanied by individuals specialized in sport and trained to work with specific groups of people (for example older people, people with special needs, etc.).
This is accomplished through a set of multi-sector partnerships that we have established with local and national entities. As a result, we have many diverse resources available at hand, which are essential to the implementation of the sport programs.
Our strategy also relies on the assignment of roles between other partners, which allows for various groups of people to participate in a diverse range of sports programs available to the Viseu community.
Since 2017, attracting and retaining more people with special needs for sports has been a challenge for Invictus Viseu. The first issue we face is that families and potential participants are not aware of the benefits and importance of sport. To get around this, we partner with schools, who assume an important role. It is at schools that most children have their first contact with sport.
Therefore, school premises must have the human resources specialized in adapted sport, to allow children with specific needs to engage in sport from an early age and their active engagement in physical education classes. In this area, the association has developed the pilot project “Inclusão Ativa” (active inclusion), where Invictus Viseu’s sport technicians go to partners schools to integrate the project and create strategies and minimum conditions for the establishment of inclusive physical and sport activities, in conjunction with physical education teachers.
Providing physical education professionals with theoretical and practical information gives them the basic training needed for engaging in the field of sport for people with disabilities.
Access to funding
Another issue we have faced is the difficulty in accessing funding applications for the development of adapted physical and sporting activities. Funding is usually scarce and the application processes can be bureaucratic and lengthy. Applications should be made less complex and bureaucratic, and funding agencies should improve their response time.
Engaging sport federations
We also found that only a few sport federations have incentives for basic sport clubs to be inclusive and invest in adapted sport modalities. Some incentive measures that federations could adopt include waiving registration fees for disabled athletes and reducing or exempting club membership for inclusive clubs.
Further, Invictus Viseu has found scarce positive discrimination criteria for provision of material resources for the practice of adapted sports. Federations should loan adapted sport materials (like sport wheelchairs) which are essential for the initiation of a sport for people with disabilities.
Further, work needs to be done by national and international sport organizations to standardize and modernize sports clubs and associations to be more inclusive, including the training of human resources. Further, incentives should be created to ensure that sport managers who have the capacity to implement inclusive and sustainable sports models in the medium- to long-term in their communities.
It is also very important that, moving forward, we increase the number of sport facilities and infrastructure which is accessible for people with disabilities, including being located conveniently and having practice schedules for disabled athletes. These are the barriers that athletes currently face, and they need to be dismantled to allow them to excel.
To make sports more inclusive for people with disabilities, it is necessary to raise awareness among political leaders, sports leaders, school communities, family members of people with disabilities, and society at large. It is important to change people’s mindsets and create and apply effective measures to include people with disabilities in sport.
The event "Jornadas Inclusivas de Viseu” (Inclusive Days of Viseu), organized annually by Invictus Viseu, in partnership with several local and national entities, of tangible action being taken to make positive change in society. Besides the objective of sensitizing the whole Viseu community, the event aims at providing a day of conventional and adapted sports activities for people with and without disabilities, in an inclusive, fun, and accessible environment for all participants. In 2019, this event was highlighted as an example of “Inclusive Good Practices” in the most recent document prepared by the Government of Portugal titled "Practical Guide: The Rights of People with Disabilities in Portugal".
Nicole Monteiro is the Director and Sport Technician at Invictus Viseu.
Marta Matos is the Direct and Sport Technician and Invictus Viseu.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Para sailing development program
Massimo Dighe explains how the lack of data has made people with disabilities invisible, and how sailing can be harnessed to include them in the sporting world.
Sailing is, arguably, one of the few sports in which people with and without disabilities can participate on equal terms. This makes it a uniquely inclusive activity: sailing can both enable those with disabilities and additional needs to get on the water, compete, and provide inclusion opportunities for people with zero to high needs, rather than separating those with disabilities from people without. Even at the highest levels, para sailing provides opportunities for people with a variety of disabilities, or even without disabilities, to compete together, without the need to establish multiple events.
In our Federation, we understand the growing recognition of sport as a vehicle for development, peace and inclusion, and therefore we wanted to promote the use of sailing for development programs and initiatives targeting young people with disabilities in different parts of the world.
When we started to plan our work, one of the main challenges we found was the lack of data and documentation regarding disability and sport, and the lack of analysis on the impact of sport, especially para sports, has on increasing social inclusion.
Sport has always been seen as “something more”, not a necessity, especially in countries where there are limited resources or without a strong history of disability inclusion, and this is reflected in the lack of data and documentation.
The first research we carried out was, then, on how the onset of a disability leads to the worsening of socio-economic well-being and poverty. This could be through many channels, including adverse impacts on education, employment and earnings. We also sought to understand if and how children with disabilities are more likely to be impacted, as they are less likely to attend school and may go on to face reduced employment opportunities.
For individuals, especially children and youth, who have been uprooted by poverty, disability, war or persecution, sport is much more than a leisure activity. It is also an opportunity to be included and protected – a chance to heal, develop and grow. Sport can be a positive catalyst for empowering these communities, helping to strengthen social cohesion and forge closer ties within the social sphere.
Sports and games are popular activities among children and youth, and organized sports programmes go a step further. They work to develop life skills and address the specific protection risks that children and youth face, within a fun, safe and supportive environment.
Unfortunately, all these aspects are still a taboo in a lot of our societies, where it is easy, morally and logistically, to maintain a certain degree of separation between able and disabled people.
We are convinced that sailing is the perfect sport to promote this type of project and inclusion. Sailing is a lifetime sport, a competitive and recreational activity for people of all abilities, backgrounds and ages, that uniquely harnesses the power of nature.
Skill, strategy, fast tactical thinking, technique and teamwork are the keys to success in sailing. Sailing has an athletic environment that is respectful, equitable and free of all forms of violence, harassment and abuse, in which all athletes have the right to be treated with respect, protected from non-accidental violence.
Para sailing development program
To develop para sailing, we decided then to create our Para-sailing Development Program (PDP), in order to help national sailing federations and disabled sailing associations by assisting in the development of national para sail programs, working with them to enhance inclusion of disadvantaged and young people through sailing.
We work with them to create training programs, support the training of para sailors and their coaches through dedicated sailing camps, and arrange classification opportunities for sailors that are not yet classified but wish to be, in order to participate in sailing events. The PDP focusses on enabling participating nations to grow sustainable training programs and promote mainstream social inclusion through sport. By developing local programmes and professionals, we leave a lasting legacy in the countries we work in.
We all need to fight the intrinsic ableism present in our society through our various sports. Our aim should be to create a fully inclusive society, using the power of para sport, where competition can motivate communities across the globe to compete against and celebrate their fellow citizens in different types of events.
Massimo Dighe is a Paralympic sailor for the Italian National Team, and the Para World Sailing Manager for Sailing. Has been involved in sport development projects since the early 200s, aimed at promoting social inclusion through sport and increasing participation in para sailing competitions.