Including persons with disability in sport
Perspectives of organizations to spread sport among people with disabilities
Andrea Flores explores how different sports associations and official bodies can help people with disabilities engage in sport and integrate into society.
The world around us is very diverse, made up of people with different capacities, abilities, and aptitudes, and we believe that society is prepared to include people with functional diversity in our day-to-day actions. But even inclusion is difficult to carry out due to the many prejudices and thoughts that exist about this topic. Lately, there is talk of the importance of sport as a means of social transformation because it can influence and help people feel integrated into society.
The main challenge for this group of people is recognition and full integration into society. Sport can play a key role in this regard because it is the link that allows this group of people to interact with routine activities.
Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are another of inconvenience that these people suffer due to their physical or mental limitations because they prefer to be at home than to go out, since they normally require extra help or supervision.
On the other hand, more and more, there are local associations and official bodies that protect people with disabilities, helping them to be able to integrate into society, find a job, study, occupy their leisure time, and, above all, in recent years they are committed to sports activities. For this reason, associations of this type play a fundamental role in the development of people with disabilities.
The implementation of low and medium impact sports programs is the initial way to bring physical activity closer to this group. Many of these people have never considered practicing sports and others are unaware of the advantages it can bring them. For this reason, these associations must contemplate general sports programs that include, on the one hand, maintenance activities and mobility exercises with a social component, and on the other, initiation activities to a sports discipline and even the fact of being able to participate in a competition.
To carry out the initiation of a sport, collaboration with sports clubs and entities of the city is essential to take advantage of the resources of personnel, material, and knowledge about sports. The alliance of these associations with the sports sector allows these people to have a feeling of belonging, by being able to join a team or group, to wear the same equipment, to compete, to feel active, and to share the space with other people from that club to help them interact. The purpose of this set of actions is that this group of people feel fulfilled, satisfied, and that their motor skills evolve significantly.
To successfully develop sports programs, the figure of professionals is necessary, people who are trained both in the sports part and in the pedagogical part. Associations should work with reference personnel in each program because the figure of this professional allows children and young people to get to know, feel comfortable, and gain confidence with the people around them. The creation of social ties and the interaction between them and their closest environment is qualitative learning and a fundamental aspect in the development of their capacities.
To evaluate the effectiveness of sports programs, apart from having specific programming in line with the specific abilities of the group of people and a training itinerary for the sports discipline, the creation of indicators that assess the effectiveness of the program must be taken into account as well as measuring the impact they create on the participants and society.
For the progress and evolution of this group in the history of sports, including people with disabilities in sports environments and bringing them closer to the possibility of physical activity contributes to personal growth and improvement. In the future, this group of people, if they start practicing sports at an early age, can be an example to follow for future generations, and thus they are reflected in athletes of the same condition.
As a society, it is in our power to bring the practice of physical activity closer to the population as a whole and facilitate access to those with more difficulties, in this case, people with disabilities. Sport contributes numerous values, let us make them shared and disseminated to provide the opportunity to make sports practice accessible to anyone.
Andrea Flores, is a sports consultant at Itik Consulting, and also collaborates with a local association for the intellectually disabled (ADISGA) that carries out different sports programs that promote the practice of soccer and the importance of physical activity, among other cultural and leisure activities.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
The Barça Foundation’s Programme for Diversity
The Barça Foundation’s Programme for Diversity works to introduce sport to children and youth with disabilities, as a tool to improve and develop their skills.
The Barça Foundation was founded 25 years ago to support vulnerable children and young people through sport. Now, it is present in more than 50 countries with more than 6 different programmes running worldwide. In each programme, sport is used as a tool to facilitate safe spaces where everyone is recognised and appreciated, no matter their ability. Every session entails an exchange of experiences that allows children and young people with different capacities to play in an inclusive environment where everyone is equal. To guarantee this, there are three basic rules that must be followed in each session:
- There is no referee, which encourages children and young people to resolve disputes themselves
- Teams must be mixed in terms of gender, disability, sporting ability and origin, among other things
- Everyone must be encouraged to participate
These basic rules allow participants to develop skills and gain experiences that will make them feel accepted within sport and in their families, schools, and communities.
Programme for Diversity
Since 2015, Barça Foundation has been running the Programme for Diversity, which aims to introduce sports to children and youths with disabilities as a tool to improve and develop their skills. Over the years, three key elements have been identified that guarantee that the programme welcomes different capacities in different groups.
Listen to participants’ needs
First, it is essential to give a voice to and listen to participants and their families’ needs. Given that their realities are challenging in many different ways, sports programmes must be easy to access and adapted to their personal situations and social needs. While we recognise that every context and community is different, but here are some tips that might be useful in promoting access to and participation in sports programmes:
- Accessibility can be guaranteed by holding activities in safe spaces close to participants’ homes and during the day. Useful information can be provided about the programme’s impact and about community services for families. We also recommend avoiding bureaucratic registration processes
- Participation can be made possible by creating routines, adapting activities and putting together a qualified and committed educational team. Investing time and human resources in communication is essential. Regular contact between educators and families is also important, as is the creation of channels for sharing information and ensuring accessibility
Properly train and support the team
Second, the inclusion of people with disabilities in sport is dependent on the educational team being properly trained and supported. To guarantee access to and participation in sport for everyone, professionals must invest in training that gives them the tools and knowledge they need to adapt any sports activity to different capacities.
It is essential that educators learn how to better identify individual capacities, how to deal with them, and how to approach the range of capacities in any one group. Acquiring and developing these skills is the baseline of the intervention, although the educational team should be also supported with manuals and protocols that help them respond to different challenges within their communities.
The final aim of the educational team and any organisation should be to involve children and young people in the inclusion process, creating safe spaces and activities that facilitate the sharing of tools and strategies with children and families, and foster participation in contexts such as the classroom, school, home and public places.
Finally, to ensure and promote the inclusion of children with disabilities in sport, the Barça Foundation has identified Cooperative Challenges as a third key element. A Cooperative Challenge is understood as any activity that allows all the members of a group to work together to achieve a common goal.
The emphasis is placed on activity aims, such as working on individual and group responsibility, autonomy, conflict resolution, motivation, communication and support among peers. These challenges highlight the value of teamwork and respect in finding solutions. They are usually divided into timed activities comprising three periods and focused on different goals:
- Two teams meet and agree on the rules they want to play by and set the common goal of the activity, linking them to values and identifying associated behaviours. Participants plan for the future and this helps them develop their ability to think, while taking into account the common good
- The two teams play in an effort to meet the Cooperative Challenge, trying to implement the rules they have agreed together. Sport provides children and young people with an environment in which they can develop their capacity to create and are encouraged to be accountable for their actions
- Finally, the two teams meet to discuss how the Cooperative Challenge went. The educational team asks open questions to encourage critical thinking
Children and young people with disabilities have infinity capacities when it comes to playing sport and engaging in physical activities. Different sports have different rules; in football, players chase after a ball; in volleyball, they hit a ball over a net; and in basketball, they score a basket. So, all we need to do to include children with disabilities in sport and to make sure none of them are left behind is to adapt the rules.
Children with disabilities should not have to adapt to established sports rules; sports rules should be adapted to them and their capacities. This is why we have to empower them to assert their rights and their need to play sport, investing time and resources in giving them the requisite knowledge and tools.
In listening to them, the sports sector should be prepared, trained and ready to turn their claims into realities and leverage their potential. And finally, we should make the change real by putting into practice and rethinking the values and rules of all sports and physical activities. By doing so we can welcome everyone and leave no child offside.
Barça Foundation was founded 25 years ago to support vulnerable children and young people through sport and education on values, with the aim of contributing to a more inclusive and egalitarian society.
Disability in development: Where can sport make most difference?
Steve Harknett highlights that though sport for disability development programmes have usually focused on building elite para-sport and para athletes, the focus should instead move to a broader audience, to cater to the many and most marginalised.
Sport for development is distinguished from ‘sport for sport’s sake’ by its focus on broad, social impacts rather than having a narrow focus on the elite, talented few. This applies equally to sport for disability development.
It is unfortunate that disability sport programmes in developing countries with an elite para-sport focus are sometimes held up as sport for development, despite their relatively limited social benefits. Sport for development, like wider development programming, should strive to deliver outcomes (health, personal development, social inclusion, etc.) to the many, including those most left behind, in a sustainable, cost-effective way.
With this in mind this article highlights two areas which I consider to be priorities for sport for disability development: where disability sport can have great social impact in developing countries, but which have been relatively neglected to date, perhaps due to them falling outside of the para-sport focus.
Inclusive physical education in schools
School enrolment in primary schools in the Global South has risen dramatically in recent years (at least prior to COVID-19), due to decades of investment in this area. This includes a large percentage of children with disabilities, increasingly through inclusive education rather than special education provisions.
Improving PE in primary schools is, therefore, a cost-effective way of bringing the benefits of sport to a large percentage of children, including many of those with disabilities. Inclusive PE does not mean importing competitive para-sport into schools, which is frequently specialised and costly; instead, it involves improving PE methodology and PE teacher training, taking an individualised and adapted approach to help children reach their own personal development goals (skill mastery, self-confidence, physical and cognitive development, etc), rather than competitive sporting goals.
As well as helping children with disabilities, improved, child-centred and inclusive PE may succeed in including non-disabled children in sport perhaps for the first time, for example, by being a supportive space for those who are not good at sport, don’t like sport, children who are shy, obese, etc.
This is not to deny that there are and probably always will be children with disabilities who are not in school, for whom home-based and school-based sport and physical activity programmes will continue to be needed.
Sport and older people
Health problems such as obesity and hypertension, and associated disabilities, are becoming more prevalent across the global South. In many countries of the South, sport is seen as the preserve of children and youth, despite the popularity of so-called ‘sport for all’ campaigns.
Sport and physical activity can delay or prevent the onset of disability among middle-aged and older people, and can help mitigate the impact of disabling conditions. This can prolong working lives, reduce household expenditure on healthcare and the burden on households of caring for elderly members, and ease the strain on healthcare systems.
Sport, fitness and physical activity programmes for the middle-aged and older people are well-established in the Global North and it is now time for countries of the South to embrace this more seriously. This involves more provision for ‘Masters’ sports (for example, football and athletics leagues and events for the over 40s), promotion of adapted sports for older people (like walking football and football golf) and expansion of fitness programmes (like aerobics and chair exercises).
Sport can be used more effectively in the field of disability development by tackling such areas, rather than simply taking its lead from para-sport programmes.
Steve Harknett worked in disability in development in Uganda and Cambodia for 10 years, before moving into the sport for development space with international NGOs in Sri Lanka and sub-Saharan Africa. He currently works in community-building in deprived communities in a UK city.
Institutionalizing physical activity programmes for people with disabilities: Perspectives from Nigeria
Most institutions in Nigeria do not make provision for PWDs in their annual intramural events and weekly recreational activities. There is a need for systemic intervention from federal and state ministries of education for inclusive physical education and sport programmes at all levels of education.
Sports for persons with disabilities (PWDs) has been in existence over 100 years. The first Sport Club for the Deaf was established in 1880 in Berlin. Integration of PWDs into the sports world was demonstrated in 1960, with the establishment of policies and participation of 23 countries in the first Paralympic Games.
However, the grassroots integration of PWDs has been by convenient recruitment. This is usually done when athletes are sought for Paralympic competitions at both national and international events. In this case, states and federations often take advantage of accessible opportunities.
In academic and sport communities, there exists a good amount of knowledge that physical activity and sport serve as instruments of great motivation for most individuals, including PWDs. However, the time-bound structure of academic programmes diverts attention of university sports units away from PWDs.
As a sport practitioner, this call for article raises my consciousness of the need to admit PWDs into human kinetics and sports programmes. Generally, most institutions in Nigeria do not make provision for PWDs in their annual intramural events and weekly recreational activities.
Grassroots development has been associated with sequential educational strategies to optimize inclusive participation, physical literacy for healthy lifestyle and career pursuit opportunities in sport, and lifetime physical activity sustainability. Grassroots integration requires awareness of PWDs' rights to physical activity and sport opportunities, making educational phases key to policy implementation.
From primary to secondary and post-secondary education, there are barely any inclusive physical education and sports programmes for PWDs, who experience isolation and often struggle to keep up with academic rigour while maintaining their physical, physiological and psychological capacities. In tertiary education institutions, PWDs are usually completely alienated from physical activity and sport programmes.
Challenges and the barriers are, therefore, multidimensional. They include a lack of or inadequate sport education for including PWDs in physical activity and university sport, lack of advocacy and collaborative efforts to involve PWDs in university recreation sport, national or international games.
Further, the university sport body in my country has limited resources to manage sport at a national and international scene, and adding inclusive programmes for PWDs might be the last straw on the camel’s back.
Nigeria has structured Paralympic events in its national programmes and a federation as well, but there is no structure for inclusive policies in institutional sports. This calls for systemic intervention from federal and state ministries of education for inclusive physical education and sport programmes at all levels of education.
This need for systemic intervention has become even more important in the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a majority of the PWDs have become even more inactive and sedentary.
There is a need to enlighten campaigns to target PWDs, parents, and other stakeholders through various media channels to encourage PWDs to join sporting programmes. Physical education teachers, coaches, student bodies, university management and supportive service units all need to collaborate to make this a reality.
Olufunmilola Leah Dominic (Ph. D.) is the current Directors of Sports and a Professor of Exercise and Sport Science in University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She is seasoned athlete, from grassroot to elite performance, since 1974, and transitioned to a coaching career both at state and institutional sports in 1985.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Disability football: An inclusive space
Scort and the Football Club Social Alliance (FCSA) strongly believe that sport and play-based activities provide a fantastic environment to shatter misconceptions around disability and promote the active inclusion of persons with disabilities beyond the football field.
It is vital that society embraces diversity and acknowledges that some of the biggest challenges and barriers to inclusion of persons with disabilities is formed by misconceptions and a lack of opportunities. Scort and the Football Club Social Alliance (FCSA) strongly believe that sport and play-based activities provide a fantastic environment to shatter these misconceptions and promote the active inclusion of persons with disabilities beyond the football field.
Due to limited points of contact as well as a lack of awareness and education, society often still underestimates abilities of persons with disabilities, leaving them excluded from activities, including sports.
To address this challenge and promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in sports and play-based activities, the FCSA has been delivering a disability football programme in Central Europe since 2007. The programme is two-fold:
During the first part of the programme, the Tandem Young Coach Education, a person with a disability (called “Young Coach”) and a person without a disability (called “Tandem Partner”) work together to become disability football coaches. For one week, the Tandem work together and learn from each other through various theoretical and practical workshops. At the end of the week, they return to their home clubs as certified coaches and will get involved in training the club’s disability football team.
The Special Youth Camp – the second part of the programme – is an annual football and adventure camp for children and youth with physical and/or intellectual disabilities from various clubs across Europe. While the participants can enjoy a week full of new and challenging experiences, the previously trained Tandems get the opportunity to put their acquired skills into practice: as coaches, they prepare and carry out the daily football trainings, including festivals and tournaments, and take on additional responsibilities off the pitch.
Mutual learning and development
Built upon this structure, the FCSA’s disability football programme is designed to use football to create spaces which promote interaction, inclusion, and mutual learning. By bringing persons with and without disabilities together, prejudices and misconceptions can be deconstructed, while the Young Coaches’ and camp participants’ personal development can be fostered.
During the Tandem Education, the Young Coaches are gradually given more responsibility as well as the opportunity to develop and trust themselves. This process helps to improve their self-esteem and empowers them to not only become coaches in disability football, but carry over these skills and experiences into their lives beyond the pitch:
“Through the Special Youth Camp and the Young Coach training I have become a much more open-minded person and my self-confidence has grown. Therefore, I want to found my own team at my school and lead it alone, without any help,” says Patrick, a Young Coach.
“…the Young Coaches can develop their personality and appear with much more self-confidence in their life… [This] is not only shown on the football field, but also at school or in their working environment...” says Tim Müller, the instructor of Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Simultaneously, their Tandem Partners are introduced to disability football and receive insights into new training methods which allow them to adapt their existing coaching skills to the children’s needs and abilities. As a result of working alongside a Young Coach, they learn to recognise the potential of persons with disabilities:
“Although [the Young Coach] gives the impression of being withdrawn, he has a lot of ideas. He includes them more and more [in training]. He has more capabilities than one thinks. Actually, this is true for all of the participants here. They have many talents,” says David, a Tandem Partner.
Creating role models
The opportunities provided at the Special Youth Camp and the Tandem Education encourage positive interactions which push the participants to challenge themselves and often exceed their own expectations. The coaches which emerge from the Tandem Education not only develop as individuals, but become role models for other children with disabilities who look up to them and wish to become coaches too.
So far, over 150 Young Coaches with and without disabilities have been trained as disability football coaches in Central Europe. Their new coaching skills benefit more than 900 children with disabilities who attend the Young Coaches’ training sessions. Such inclusive training sessions are intended to function as a basis for a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.
The Scort Foundation is a non-profit, politically and religiously independent operating foundation based in Basel, Switzerland. Scort initiated the Football Club Social Alliance in 2007 and manages the development and administration of the partnership programmes.
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.
Football for All
The Football for All Leadership Programme was started in 2018, designed to promote employability, entrepreneurship and networking for disabled people in the sports industry.
As the former baseball player and sports legend Tommy Lasorda says, “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.” I believe that this quote applies to all aspects of our lives. Determination is the only thing that should limit our capacity to achieve our objectives and to reach our dreams.
With this thought in mind, we created the Football for All Leadership Programme in 2018. This programme consists of a course specifically designed to promote employability, entrepreneurship and networking for disabled people in the sports industry. Through this programme, we aim to ensure that everyone can reach their dream of working in sports, regardless of their ability or disability.
Disabled people make up 15% of the global population; however, they are still not fairly represented in the sports world. In fact, disabled people continue to be unable to find equal access to sports.
This lack of equality can be faced at various stages. It starts from very early ages – disabled children desire to practice sports, but in many places around the world, their local clubs and sports fields are not accessible, thus barring them from participating in sports. The same happens at schools, where disabled children and teenagers are still unable to access sports facilities or take part in PE classes at an equal footing.
At a competitive sports level, besides the lack of infrastructure and financial support that exists in most countries, disabled athletes face an extra problem – the non-existence of a common strategy for disabled sports.
From a European perspective, I believe that one of the biggest obstacles for the growth of disabled sports is the fact that there is no common path for the development of disabled sports. We still do not have a common agreement about the governing of disabled sports at a national and international level.
At a national level, some countries manage their disabled sports through their National Paralympic Committees or national disabled sports federations, while, on the other hand, para-sports are managed by national mainstream sports federations.
At an international level, there is no common agreement of which body should be in charge of disabled sports. In some cases, the sport is organized by the International Paralympic Committee, while other sports are managed by the international federation in charge of the mainstream sport or the specific international disabled sports federation.
In my opinion, all these organisations are key to the future of disabled sports – it is just important that we find a common path where all these organisations are included and can contribute for the future growth of disabled sports at both a grassroots and elite level.
In terms of the employment of disabled people in sports organisations, disabled people are still unable to find equal access to work in the sports world. The biggest challenge here is the lack of accessibility – it is still quite common for a disabled person to not be recruited, since many workplaces and office buildings remain inaccessible. Further, many a times, recruitment processes are not inclusive – for example, it is still uncommon to find recruitment ads that are translated in accessible formats for disabled persons to apply.
We should work to increase the number of people with disabilities to work in sports organisations, and we should ensure that they are in positions that fit with their knowledge and expertise, i.e. just because they have a disability, it does not mean their role is limited to a foundation or a CSR department.
Disability should be seen by sports organizations not only as linked to inclusion policies, but as a huge opportunity that we cannot lose. This is an opportunity to reach a group that represents 15% of the world’s population and if your organization wants to be global, you cannot ignore people with disabilities.
José Soares is the Chief Association Executive at Integrated Dreams. He also is an organiser of the Football for All Leadership Programme.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Glentoran inclusion football club - Belfast
The Glentoran Inclusion FC is a football club established in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which allows children, youth and adults with disabilities to join a football team and be part of an inclusive recreational sport.
We are a club that has our foundations in a disability football team which was taken over by Glentoran FC. The club was established as Glentoran Disability FC in March 2016 and renamed as Glentoran Inclusion FC in 2020. In 2019, we were awarded a UEFA Bronze award.
We cater for ambulant individuals aged 5 to adult who experience health or social exclusion issues. The majority of our squad have issues ranging from learning disabilities and ADHD to being on the autism spectrum. We also have individuals who experience mental health issues and others who are recovering substance abusers. We have one individual with hearing difficulties, and he wears cochlear implants. We are a diverse range of people united by a love of football, a love of competition, a love of sport and a desire to feel involved and accepted.
The club is run separately from Glentoran FC. We have our own training schedule and organized matches for both juniors and seniors.
Challenges in inclusion
We don’t experience any difficulties in including individuals with disabilities in our club, as we cater for disability and meet diversity by adapting training sessions to meet need and ability. So, we streamline our squad on an ability basis and adapt training sessions to meet everyone’s needs. We play matches against similar ability banded teams to ensure fairness and competitiveness and to make matches enjoyable for all.
Our main challenges are gaining recognition for our players’ abilities and gaining financial support to fund our club’s activities. Whilst we are aligned to a large football club, Glentoran FC, we have to fund and finance ourselves. We try to overcome prejudice by promoting our matches and club’s activities through social media.
More organized leagues and more visibility and development of disability sports would help in getting higher participation rates. More events, tournaments and inclusion in mainstream football events would also improve our social visibility and recognition of ability.
None of the organized football events within Northern Ireland include a disability section as part of their organized events. They ignore disability football and only include elite teams, to the detriment of inclusive football and ‘football for all’. This only works to perpetuate prejudice and social exclusion.
Clubs lack disability awareness and coaches lack the ability, techniques, understanding and motivation to coach players from diverse backgrounds with diverse abilities. Coaches simply cherry-pick, rather than develop and train. Some may find that offensive, but I speak from experience and listening to coaches and clubs attempts to justify their prejudice.
Disability football is driven by individuals who are informed about disability issues, informed by football knowledge, motivated by a desire to include people, and a desire to build players and teams. These individuals are in short supply and most, like myself, are the parent of a disabled child/adult. It is disappointing that clubs do not support their disability sections more and it is disappointing that more coaches do not enter disability football, even in a part-time capacity. Perhaps these mainstream coaches lack the ability and fail to accept their inadequacy.
Our club is driven by desire, motivated by inclusion and maintained by ability. I coach four nights a week with two junior teams and one senior squad. We play matches weekly and league matches monthly. How many mainstream coaches with cherry-picked teams are able to follow that schedule? Disability football is not for the faint hearted!
Mark Smith is the Head Coach of Glentoran Inclusion FC.
Including disabled people in sport and society
Mark Bullock explains how we need to improve upon the visibility, representation, communication, workforce confidence, delivery of activity and choice of activity in sport, and also the wider community, for disabled people to be included and be a part of society.
I am passionate about working with a wide range of partners to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in physical activity and sport. Providing opportunities to people with disabilities is the responsibility of a wide range of agencies that contribute to an environment that enables participation to grow and be retained.
These organisations and actors include schools, community groups, local government, sports clubs, families, transport providers, newspapers, magazines, sports governing bodies at local, national and international level, and the local and national governments. If all of these actors have an inclusive approach to providing opportunities to people with disabilities the engagement with physical activity and sport will be easier.
Physical activity and sport do not operate in a silo. If people with disabilities are included in other aspects of life, then inclusion in sport becomes part of that wider process. If people with disabilities see themselves in the media, in fashion communications, in wider marketing campaigns, etc., inclusion in physical activity and sport is embraced within that messaging.
Visibility and representation includes imagery of Paralympic athletes, but it is bigger than this. Sports and activities that are not on the Paralympic programme need visibility too, like yoga, powerchair football, amputee football and blind tennis. The Deaflympics and Special Olympics need visibility in this space as well.
Inclusive physical education is vital in itself, and it also contributes to inclusion in community sport and gives confidence to the pupils. If inclusive physical education is well delivered, then inclusion in local community clubs is an extension of that for all the participants.
Inclusion in physical activity is much more than participation in the activity itself. People with disabilities should be included in all aspects of sport and at all levels: volunteering, teaching, coaching, committee members, board members, coaches and directors. As part of this process, workforce development in its widest sense is critical, so that people with disabilities are represented in all aspects of the activity or sport.
Key to encouraging people to play and to retaining them in the sport is providing choice in how people engage with a sport or activity. Some people may prefer to take part in an activity with other people with disabilities, and some may prefer to undertake activity with non-disabled family and friends. Research in the UK by the Activity Alliance in 2013 suggested 64% of people with disabilities prefer to take part in sport with disabled and non-disabled people.
Another consideration is that, in the UK, more than 70% of people with disabilities have more than one impairment, so consideration needs to be given as to how activity is provided and promoted. Most activities tend to focus only on a single impairment, thus failing to realise the lived reality of people with disabilities.
Thus, we need to improve upon the visibility, representation, communication, workforce confidence, delivery of activity and choice of activity in sport, and also the wider community, for disabled people to be included and be a part of society.
Mark has more than 25 years of experience in Paralympic/disability sport, sports development & the broader social impact of sport. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, healthy lifestyles & nutrition.
Making sport inclusive for youth in colleges
AoC Sport has worked hard to improve opportunities for disabled students in further education to be physically active and recognises the positive impact it has on disabled students’ lives.
AoC Sport is the membership organisation for colleges, leading the development of sport and physical activity in 16+ education. We believe that sport and physical activity are essential components of college life, giving students significant advantages in education, employment and health. Our vision is for every college student to participate regularly in sport or physical activity. Our purpose is to promote, support and deliver college sport and physical activity.
Two years ago, AoC Sport published a ground-breaking disability sport strategy highlighting how to develop this area of work over the next few years, to ensure every disabled college student is active for college, work and life.
During the first UK lockdown, AoC Sport created an Inclusive Activity Resource Pack to help disabled students stay active whilst at home. To create the resource, we worked with a range of impairment specific partners, including Special Olympics Great Britain and British Blind Sport, to ensure the resource was accessible to all.
We ensured the activities used minimal equipment and things that could be found around the home, so that a lack of equipment would not be a barrier to participation.
Inclusive Ambassadors, Inclusive Hubs
Activity Alliance research found that two thirds of disabled people prefer to take part in sport with both disabled and non-disabled people. Using this research, AoC Sport introduced Inclusive Ambassadors who are the voice of young people to champion not only disability specific activity, but also inclusive activity. The ambassadors are a sounding board within their colleges to check and challenge ideas to ensure disabled students are included in all activity.
Although the Inclusive Ambassador programme is not solely for disabled students, it is important we have disabled students in these positions to act as role models for other disabled students. At AoC Sport we believe visibility is key to ensuring disabled students can be active.
In 2020, AoC Sport launched a new Inclusion Hubs programme, where colleges were chosen to commit to making sport and physical activity inclusive for all disabled students.
These Inclusion Hubs are also a great way to be able to share learnings of engaging disabled students in activity. Of the 12 Inclusion Hubs, we have nine general further education colleges spread across England and three specialist further education colleges.
This will allow us to pilot new ideas to engage disabled students and to see whether we see the same successes and challenges in all colleges or whether they differ geographically or by type of college. This is also our opportunity to consult with disabled students to find out what motivates them to be active and what their barriers are rather than assuming we know.
In our review of the current landscape we identified barriers to physical activity and sport for disabled students, which included lack of equipment and staff not qualified to deliver disability sport.
As an organisation, we seek to work with other organisations and national governing bodies to tackle the challenges colleges face. We have worked with both Boccia England and the Lawn Tennis Association to offer free equipment grants to colleges so that disabled students can access new sporting opportunities.
AoC Sport is also a licensed partner of the UK Coaching, Inclusive Activity Programme. We use this course to upskill education staff and students to be able to deliver inclusive and modified sessions, so that all students can participate in sport and physical activity together. This is part of our commitment to ensure the future workforce have inclusion at the forefront.
At AoC Sport we are looking to increase participation opportunities, especially in inclusive activity so that disabled students have opportunities to participate with non-disabled students.
We will continue to upskill the future workforce so that inclusive activity is the norm, changing perceptions that disabled students must take part in disability specific activity.
Shannon Howarth is the Disability Development Officer at AoC Sport. She studied Sport Development with the Business of Sport at Liverpool John Moores University. Since graduating in 2016, Shannon has worked in the disability sport sector and has a real passion for ensuring all disabled people have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers to be physically active.