Including persons with disability in sport
Including people with severe motor disabilities through boccia in Uruguay
Boccia began to be developed in Uruguay in 2012, and since then, it has been used to build institutional spaces in response to the sporting demands of people with severe motor disabilities.
In the following work we report the experience of how boccia has developed in Uruguay. It began in 2012 and has had great milestones since then through a practice based on human rights, which has generated institutional spaces in response to the sports demand of people with severe motor disabilities.
In 2012, at the initiative of the municipality of Montevideo, boccia meetings and championships began in Uruguay. Coming out of a practice based on human rights, boccia has been used as a tool by different institutions that develop physical activities for people with motor disabilities to articulate their demands and rights.
This project proposes the realization of a series of sporting events through boccia at the community level for people with motor disabilities. This sport is an excellent tool to promote the organized participation of persons with motor disabilities, with the aim of facilitating encounters, exchanges, and coexistence. The project is aimed and children, young people and adults with motor disabilities, regardless of their affiliation with any institution.
The foundation of this project is that there are various recreational and sports proposals for people with disabilities, but none that take this sport as its axis. Boccia is a Paralympic sport, which allows and encourages competition for people with severe motor disabilities. For this part of the population with disabilities, there are very few sports programs in which they can participate.
The implementation in circuit format works to develop the activity keeping access as a priority – hence, programs are brought closer to the population, rather than the other way around. The mobility barriers of participants are thus reduced, facilitating their presence in the programs. Further, this model also allows the wider community to be involved.
In this intersectoral programme, national and departmental institutions participate to develop actionable items for people with motor disabilities. Some of the institutions that make it up are the National Sports Secretariat (SENADE), National Disability Program (PRONADIS), Territorial Offices of the Ministry of Social Development, Sports and Disability Secretariats of the Municipality of Montevideo, Higher Institute of Physical Education (ISEF) University of the Republic (UdelaR), Institutions for people with disabilities Association for the recovery of the Invalid (APRI) National Organization Pro-Crippled (ONPLI), and athletes and adapted sport trainers.
Inter-institutional processes like this project ensure that young people with disabilities have their voices included in the larger public policy development process as well.
This project carried out the first boccias circuit in July 2013, with a rotating modality throughout the territory of Montevideo, closing the first cycle with a sports competition, in which the winners of each territorial event faced-off. This project has been rapidly growing, and, as of November 2019, there are more than 150 people with severe motor disabilities who actively participate.
Santiago Guido is a Professor at the Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay. He is also a boccia coach and the coach of the Uruguayan Blind Soccer Team.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Gladys Sanchez, an example of leadership to the world
Gladys Sanchez is the first Colombian female para-powerlifter. Hear her story.
“I am from Garzón, Huila, a place in the Colombian countryside which is about nine hours by car from Bogotá. My family worked in agriculture, while my eight siblings and I would go to school and practice sports, which in my case was basketball. During my childhood, I had cancer - that is how I ended up moving to Bogotá and became the first Colombian Para-powerlifting female representative. This is my story.
“In 2000, after running some tests, I was getting ready for surgery. When I entered the operating room, the doctors told me they were going to amputate my leg, but they never told me what disease I had. I was in shock. It is those kinds of moments when there is nothing that can help you calming down. After the surgery, they explained that I had cancer in my bones. They gave me three months to live, and said that chemotherapy would be done to control my pain.
“My father was with me for only two months, since he had to go back home to take care of my other siblings. He decided to leave me in the care a foundation. Due to the distance, I never received calls or visits. I don’t know what was harder at that point: the amputation, having cancer, or facing everything by myself.
“When I was offered to practice para-powerlifting, I wasn’t convinced about it. But one day, I told to myself: `I am going to try it and see how far I can get’. After a month of training, I was representing Bogotá. At that time there were no women doing para-powerlifting at a national level, and that was uncomfortable because I had to compete in the men’s round. However, something I have learned is that powerlifting is more about concentration and mental strength rather than physical power; therefore, it isn’t necessarily only for men.
“Later in my career, I competed with conventional athletes and I also beat them. I qualified for the Rio Olympics, but could not go because I was pregnant. I do not regret not attending, my baby is better than a medal. Nevertheless, I was the first woman that promoted and practiced para-powerlifting in Colombia. In fact, in the beginning, I would compete against my own records, since there was no other para-athlete that competed against me.
“I overcame cancer in 2009. I even went to the National Games having one chemotherapy session left. Personally, I did not like to leave my house because of how people stigmatized me. My loved ones told me that I had to go out and face reality. In that sense, sports helped me a lot in the processes of accepting my new life, even though, at the beginning I suffered because everyone would see my scar through the outfit I use in para-powerlifting. Without sports I would have never gone out to the streets.
“I have been working for ten years for a supermarket called Cencosud. I train in the aquatic complex – initially, it was difficult for me to get space there, since they only support conventional sports. In Colombia, people and institutions should give more value to Paralympic athletes. I dream of giving my daughter the best opportunities and to continue growing as person and as an athlete. I want to go to a World Cup again and I dream about going to the Olympics.”
Gladys’s story is an example of overcoming barriers in life using sport as a tool for it. We wanted to tell her story first, because we think it is important that the world acknowledges that there are people like Gladys who are examples of leadership, tenacity, and love for life. Her story needs to be known to inspire and promote different leadership styles that can help the world become a better place.
As a platform that promotes inclusion and equality, Honiball Humans portrays the diversity of female leadership. We feel that by sharing this Paralympic female athlete’s stories, not only will we help highlight their greatness, but we also want to address the discrimination they suffer on a daily basis.
In Gladys’s case, she suffers intersectional discrimination as a woman and a person with disabilities. We believe that the main challenges that these athletes and the organizations that support them are facing have to do with the lack of inclusion and opportunities.
To overcome that, we want to lead by example. By giving them the same space for them to share their stories in our platform as we give to any other athlete, they feel included and heard. By telling their experiences we believe we are challenging our society, by using sports to change those discriminatory and exclusionary beliefs.
Our aim is to promote Paralympic athletes as equals and give them the space to become role models for young and older people. We believe that sports reflect of our society in which athletes with disabilities should have the same opportunities and recognition as any other human being.
Laura Torres and Santiago Gallo are the co-founders of Honiball Humans, an organization that promotes women leadership through sports under the values of inclusion, equality, empathy and diversity. Find them on Instagram: @Honiball_humans
“Can I play goalie?”
Mara Yale tells us about her daughter, Mia, an avid ice hockey goalie, and their journey in making the sport inclusive for Mia.
As we drove to hockey one evening the summer of the COVID-19 shutdown, my eleven-year-old daughter Mia’s first time on the ice since March, she asked:
“What kind of stroke did I have?”
“An ischemic stroke, that means a clot.”
“Is there a difference between strokes caused by a clot or a bleed?”
“I think so, but it depends on the stroke as every stroke is different. Generally, bleeds are worse than clots.”
“Is there a difference between whether a stroke happens when you are a baby or older?”
“Yes, when you’re a baby, you haven’t yet learned how to do things, so you can learn a new way. If you’re older, it’s like you have to learn again how to do something you already knew how to do, and it may not all come back.”
“Why do strokes happen in the elderly?”
“Cardiovascular disease can be caused by what you eat or not getting enough exercise, if the arteries narrow.”
“What makes one limb smaller in someone who has had a stroke?”
“Bones grow based on how much they are used, so if one limb is used more than another, it will grow longer than the other.”
Occasionally, she asks questions like these. I think of it like layers building layers of understanding. My ears perked up when she said:
“I think my hand is more open from playing goalie. Remember when my thumb was at a weird angle?”
She showed me later.
I remember. I remember her NICU stay and stroke diagnosis. When she kept her right hand balled in a tight fist starting at four months old, I wondered if she would gain use of “Righty.” I rejected guidance from the physical therapist to put a splint on Righty at twelve months old to force it open.
Instead, I learned about constraint therapy and bimanual play, put a splint on Lefty to give her more time to practice with Righty until she could point, grasp, eat, and play with Righty. I gave stealth massages to the base of her thumb on Righty when I held her hand.
She started skating when she was three, ice hockey when she was four. At five, she asked, “Can I play goalie?”
We scavenged in the equipment room for gloves but none fit her, as she is left-handed so she holds the stick with her left hand and puts the mitt on her right hand, opposite from most goalies. After months of requests, I set aside my own doubts and embraced her enthusiasm.
When she was six, I bought her a pair of goalie gloves. At first, her hands were too small, but she grew and asked for help to do surgery on that mitt, to move the little leather piece that her thumb fit in to make it a bit closer to her hand, allowing her to keep her thumb in place.
By age eight, she was a goalie. Hundreds of times, she has put on her mitt, to catch or deflect pucks. Just putting on the mitt is therapeutic and then she holds it up ready to catch, with her hand in the most functional position where the thumb falls away from the rest of the hand, aided by gravity and her neuromuscular system. The weight of the mitt pushes on the web space between her thumb and the rest of the fingers on her right hand.
When I checked in on her late that summer evening, she was looking at therapeutic hand strengthening exercises while playing with theraputty. She had been doing this privately, and she was happy to invite me in to help brainstorm with her. She is aware of her smaller right arm. She may wish it were different, and she knows that if she wants to have even more function that she needs to work at it. I realized this digital native had already researched and chosen where to start.
When I coach on the ice or from the bench, I get pangs of awe and wonder, seeing Mia as an athlete helping her team win games. I treasure these one-on-one conversations as a window into her emerging sense of self, a glimpse into how she relates to the differences that are as much a part of her as her eye color.
I tear up, grateful that by following my knowledge and wisdom in parenting her, she has such a clear understanding of her agency. From the driver’s seat, pride swelled in my chest along with the tears that still form when I remember the doubts and uncertainty of our early days. Her reflections are even more profound because I have had the great honor to accompany her at every step of this journey.
Mara Yale, PhD, helps children and adults with movement and neurological challenges move better so they may function better. She practices the Feldenkrais Method and Somatic Experiencing in Eastern Massachusetts and online, and she played ice hockey as a child through college.
The importance of inclusion in traditional and adaptive sports programs for athlete well-being
While full inclusion in traditional youth and adult sport programs is a wonderful goal, para-athletes will realize their full potential if they are able to engage in both traditional and adaptive spots. Adaptive sports programs are both necessary and critical to the health and well-being of our athletes.
My 15 year-old son, Ezra, is a congenital above-knee amputee. He acquired a walking prosthesis at 11 months old and a running blade at 4 years. He has participated in traditional youth and school-based sport programs his entire life, playing soccer, baseball, flag football, and basketball, his true passion. He played basketball at a high-level for a club team, winning tournaments with his sharp-shooting, court awareness, and overall hustle. He would play on his running blade, which was fast in transition, but gave him virtually no stability, meaning he essentially plays on one leg. He swam on his junior high team and has competed on his junior high and high school track teams.
However, Ezra has also been involved in the adaptive and Paralympic sports community since he was 5 months-old. Growing up, he participated in multi-sport clinics for years and competed for the first time at the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma when he was 8 years-old. He has had numerous Paralympian mentors since he was a toddler and has scores of friends and peers with similar disabilities. When he was 10 years old, we started Angel City Sports to provide adaptive sports training, equipment and competitive opportunities. He now participates in over a dozen adaptive sports events each year all over the country and is deeply embedded in the adaptive community as a mentor, mentee, athlete, advocate, and influencer.
Impressively, in 2019 he made the US Paralympic Track team as a 14 year-old, competing at the Junior World Para-Athletics Championships, Para-Pan American Championships, and the World Para-Athletics Championships, where he made the finals in all three of his events (100M, long jump, and high jump). He is currently training for the Tokyo Paralympic Games to be held in 2021, while attending high school.
Ezra defines himself as an athlete, not a kid with a disability. He has fully accepted himself and his disability, but it does not define him. In fact, his passion for sport is what defines him.
The real question
The real question is, how did he become so confident? Where does it come from? And, how important was access to traditional youth sport programming in his journey? How important was access to adaptive sport programming?
The answer is nuanced and complicated. Definitely friends, family, and mindset are important. But we know he benefited from traditional sport programs that were local and easy for us to get to. This allowed him vastly more playing time, against high-quality opponents, than he would have had otherwise. This accelerated his development as an athlete and kept him in excellent physical condition throughout his childhood. And he was able to play sports with his friends, and make new friends along the way, improving his social skills and emotional well-being.
However, he faced many challenges along the way. He was cut from two basketball teams even though, according to his teammates, he was good enough to be a starter. He was benched with minimal playing time until his coach, at the end of the season, realized his gifts and abilities. Referees, unfamiliar with disability, claimed he could not play.
He has faced down huge crowds of spectators pointing and staring at him - the kid missing a leg. He has always been the only athlete with a disability on any team or at any event. He has mostly had unqualified coaches who knew nothing about disability, prosthetics or adaptive sports. He has suffered from over-zealous training programs that jeopardized his physical health. The journey has been fraught with challenges for an athlete who is relatively easy to accommodate and integrate into a traditional sport program.
The solution = adaptive sport programs
Access to adaptive sports programs and the broader community of athletes with physical disabilities enabled Ezra to overcome these challenges. He knows he has a strong, vibrant community to recharge his batteries whenever he needs to. He has a source of expert, specialized coaching allowing him to advocate for more appropriate training regimen with his high school coaches.
The importance of adaptive sport programs in Ezra’s life was crystallized for me a few years ago as I watched Ezra on the pool deck at large junior high swim meets. He was always the only kid with a disability at the meets. He had to take his leg off and expose his residual limb to the entire audience, sitting and standing right next to the pool as he entered. After his race, he would hop around the pool on one leg to grab his prosthetic leg. This was an emotional experience for me to watch as a parent.
I remember thinking to myself, this kid is so much more resilient than I am. However, it didn’t seem to bother Ezra much at all.
And the reason, based on my observations and experience, he was so resilient in that environment was that he has fully accepted himself and has a high-level of self-confidence. And this confidence as an athlete has primarily come his engagement with the adaptive sports community.
The dual strategy
While full inclusion in traditional youth and adult sport programs is a wonderful goal, Ezra became the athlete he is today because we were able to take the best of both traditional and adaptive sports programs. But in my opinion, if we care about the overall well-being of adaptive athletes and their ability to navigate the challenges of participating in traditional sport programs, we should also work to strengthen adaptive sport programs. Adaptive athletes, like Ezra, deserve it.
Clayton Frech is a disability advocate and social entrepreneur, with a passion for diversity and inclusion across all sectors of society. He is the CEO & Founder of Angel City Sports and was recently appointed to the Board of Directors for Move United.
Mr. Frech became involved in the disability community when his first son, Ezra, was born with missing his left knee and left fibula and with only one finger on his left hand. Following Ezra’s passion for sports, Mr. Frech identified major gaps in access to sports programming for athletes with physical disabilities in the U.S., and in 2013, with the help of friends and family, he set out to address them. In 2015, he produced the first Angel City Games, which is now the largest Paralympic competition in the country, and the West Coast’s most prestigious Paralympic event. After the first Games, the organization evolved into Angel City Sports, working to create free, year-round access to adaptive sport training, equipment, competitive opportunities like the Angel City Games, presented by The Hartford.
Mixed-ability sport project in Ghana
Cologne-based NGO Sport 4 Development e.V. (S4D) started a pilot project, together with a local or-ganization ANOPA at the end of 2019, involving a mixed ability sport setting with 50 young people, with and without disabilities, from two schools in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Disabilities are often seen as a religious punishment for committed sins, a consequence of witchcraft or disregard to the traditions of the Juju-belief in Ghana. Accordingly, rather than attempting to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities, the cause of the disability is often sought.
Sport works a lot through non-verbal communication. Therefore, blind and deaf children were able to interact in recreational activities and sport together. The project’s aim was that all stigmatized and discriminated children with disability should be included in sports activities. The impact goal was defined as an increased level of inclusion. This can be achieved through sport – and it actually was! Sport dispelled prejudices and stereotypes. Therefore, a positive change in the internal and external perception of disability was achieved.
The main tool of the S4D’s partner organization ANOPA is swimming. With the help of two local ANOPA trainers, who were trained as assistant coaches by the State Swimming Association of North Rhine-Westphalia, the project coordinator Ernest Appiah, as well as a teacher from the Cape Coast School for the Blind and Deaf implemented the mixed-ability sport project. Additionally, volunteers from the German Sports University in Cologne supported the inclusive project.
S4D also aims to support ANOPA regarding the infrastructural challenges. The swimming lessons had to take place in hotel pools. Instead of paying a high pool rent, the Cologne-based NGO would like to build a swimming pool together with ANOPA with a cost of 20,000 Euros to increase sustainable usage and long-term impact. In that regard, they could cooperate with the University of Cape Coast. For this project, the Bonn company Engagement Global contributed 7,000 Euros as funds from the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia.
Though the project mainly uses swimming as a tool, we have also engaged in using basketball. Prince is a non-disabled participant in the program, who says: “I cant't imagine how deaf children could play basketball at all. Many of the children are even better than me and we have become good friends.”
Tobias Antoni is the founder of the NGO Sport 4 Development e.V. With several years of practical experience in sport for development on a local level in his hometown Cologne and in Ghana, he also holds an MA degree in International Sport Development and Politics from the German Sport University.
Supporting the development of inclusive sport
Anna Mambula explains the small steps that can be taken to start making sport more inclusive for all.
Sport is an area of life in which people with disabilities unarguably have less favorable experiences than their non-disabled peers and competitors. There is a great need to actively involve persons with disabilities in all areas of life, and sport is not an exception. It has been a tool used to reduce inequality between the disabled and non-disabled. It has also been seen that sport changes the person with disability in an equally profound way, by empowering persons with disabilities to realize their full potential and advocate for changes in society.
Strategic plans have been made for the involvement of disabled persons in sport, but major setbacks have interrupted the implementation of these plans, such as discrimination, negative attitude, poor physical education, lack of knowledge and information, lack of adaptable facilities and programmes, untrained staff and inadequate sponsorship and coaching.
These have been the major setbacks in involving persons with disabilities in sport and these factors cannot be overruled, due to the fact that it creates a mental and psychological effect on the disabled. It also creates a stigma around people with disabilities, which in turn causes the disabled person to see themself as less worthy.
In overcoming these challenges, various support systems need to be put in place to help keep them mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically fit, thereby boosting their self-esteem. Sport has been a tool used to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with disability; it can transform community attitudes about persons with disabilities by developing and improving their skills.
Creation of disability-friendly sports teams and clubs, where they feel comfortable to express themselves, develop social skills and develop healthy relationships can go a long way in improving participation of persons with disabilities. Also, provision of various opportunities and programs such as physical exercise, through recreational and competitive sport, physical education curriculum, leisure, sporting games should be included in their activities.
Sport for development organizations have indeed helped and encouraged the participation of disabled persons in sport, with the number of programmes and funding available, but there is still room for improvement. Participation in sports can be greatly improved with the involvement of other non-sports organizations.
Organization can be encouraged to include people with disabilities in their programs by adequately providing funds and grants, co-coordinating sport partnership, initiating and facilitating research concerning competitive or recreational sport, providing adaptable facilities, formulating and implementing a high performance strategy for disabled sports, creating favorable sport policies.
Awareness raising, effective sport programmes, and coach training can also support sport organizations in including people with disabilities in sports participation.
Anna Mambula is the Programme Manager at FAME Foundation and a passionate gender rights advocate based in Abuja, Nigeria. She believes that empowering the female gender regardless of physical or societal limitations is needed for the world we envision.
GymBad: An inclusive mix of gymnastics and badminton
Badminton Papua New Guinea (PNG) continues to celebrate a successful partnership with Oceania Gymnastics Union as part of the Pacific Sports Partnership, a programme which is funded by the Australian Government.
The ‘GymBad’ partnership allows the sports to join forces and share resources to make more participants active through Shuttle Time and gymnastics activities, while having a particular focus on inclusion.
In order to adapt their Shuttle Time sessions to a diverse range of participants, PNG utilise specialised equipment, such as oversized shuttlecocks and modified Shuttle Time activities to the group who have a range of visual and physical impairments.
“The big shuttle was donated to us and it’s been a great success with our disability groups. Some activities include balancing it on the head and doing a relay. Other times for throwing through a target (for example, a hoop) it helps all, regardless of disabilities,” says PNG President, Kini Karo.
“I’ve used it many a times for both the para training sessions and the Shuttle Time sessions to introduce Paras on the motions of badminton and for overhead shots and clears. By dividing them into two teams, they compete with each other using the massive shuttlecock as their ball, with the rules very much similar to netball,” says PNG Para badminton coach, Brian Karo.
Similarly, gymnastics skills are learned progressively and can be modified to be more challenging, or broken down into more manageable pieces as required. For example, the beginning of a handstand could start with “bunny hops” along the ground on hands and feet to develop upper body strength. A handstand can then progress to be performed inward against a wall (or tree), removing the risk of over-rotating and crashing on the ground. Of course, each of these activities could be performed on one hand, on one leg, lower or higher or be modified in other ways to ensure that every participant is individually challenged.
Over the last year, Pacific Games gold medallist in powerlifting Linda Pulsan has been trained to deliver the GymBad sessions and continues to assist with delivery as they continue to expand across the country.
“We were delighted to welcome Linda to our sessions. She brings a wealth of knowledge from her own powerlifting career and transferrable skills to our sport, inspiring the children along the way”, says Brian.
The PNG partnership has been in effect for over three years and the effects started to show at this year’s VICTOR Oceania Para Badminton Championships 2020, where PNG sent their first ever contingent to an international badminton tournament. The four participants: Jerome Bunge, David Joe Kaniku, Danny Ten and Nelly Ruth Leva returned home with a total of three medals and are also now a crucial part of the delivery team, as they are often spotted assisting and inspiring participants at Shuttle Time and GymBad sessions.
Bronze medallist from the Continental Championships, Danny Ten, has been an active participant of the PSP programme since it was first introduced, which has eventually led to his role as a GymBad volunteer coach. “It helps me a lot to build on my body strength and it gives me an opportunity to teach younger kids with disabilities about badminton. All the while, I am learning new things about gymnastics too”, says Danny Ten
In 2019 alone, 7,500 participants took part in GymBad sessions, with 19% of those taking part with disabilities.
Tom Leonard is the Communications Manager at Badminton Oceania.
Adaptive sports and development
Palms to Pines Parasports (PPP), in Riverside County, California, aims to create a more inclusive society by providing competitive and recreational opportunities for people with physical disabilities, while instilling a lifelong passion for wellness and helping athletes realize their full potential.
Inclusion is an issue that development organizations throughout the world regularly integrate into their programs. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 times. Disability is referenced in multiple parts of the SDGs, specifically in the parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs.
In April 2020 a number of friends and I created Palms to Pines Parasports (PPP), serving Riverside County, California. We officially launched in October. The purpose of this organization is to create a more inclusive society by providing competitive and recreational opportunities for people with physical disabilities, while instilling a lifelong passion for wellness and helping athletes realize their full potential. We envision a world in which adaptive athletes have the same opportunities to lead as full a life as their able-bodied peers.
In developing PPP there were a number of priority issues. First was having a diverse board with a number of the members being people with physical disabilities, i.e. athletes who would also be participating in programs. This was vital as we took to heart the phrase “nothing about us, without us.”
We also understood that we needed to collaborate with the Desert Recreation District (DRD), through their adaptive program, and the City of Riverside Parks and Recreation Department. Both of these organizations have the infrastructure (gyms, fields, sport chairs, etc.) and venues which can help create greater awareness about opportunities to participate in adaptive sports.
We realize that we have a number of challenges, including recruiting athletes to participate, sustainability, and lack of public awareness about adaptive sports. We know through due diligence in developing our business plan that there are many persons with disability living in Riverside County that are not actively participating in sport opportunities. Part of this has to do with the dearth of opportunities available, but also with getting people out of their homes, especially after an accident. In order to meet this challenge, we are developing relationships with hospitals, doctors, and rehab facilities.
Sustainability is a challenge for all non-profit organizations. As a new non-profit, we will be applying for grants, but we also understand the need to develop relationships with business and individuals who will enable PPP to grow.
The Paralympic movement has helped to raise awareness of adaptive sports and the capabilities of persons with disability. But it really comes down to the number of local organizations offering opportunities. Ultimately, it’s about getting people active in recreational sports.
A glimpse of the global landscape on sport and disability organizations
I’ve been on the adaptive sports path since I was a volunteer in India from 2009-12. This continued when I lived in Nepal from 2012-16 and when I returned to the US. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in India and Nepal. In both countries, I spent time learning about wheelchair basketball and becoming a wheelchair basketball coach.
The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) has done a phenomenal job of developing the game in a relatively short period of time. In Nepal, ENGAGE and the Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association (NSCISA), as well as other groups, have developed basketball and other sports.
I was in Nepal one year ago with a terrific Canadian wheelchair basketball coach, Paul Bowes, conducting a program through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Jess Markt, who heads the ICRC, program has really made a huge difference in terms of providing opportunities throughout the world for people with disability to play.
During this time of a global pandemic, many programs are on hold. But the type of programming that the ICRC offers provides hope for many to participate in societies where people with disability have little access.
Another incredible program has been conducted through the State Department and the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace and Society, in which people with disability are provided with an opportunity to work on a project in the US, and then bring this back to their home country for implementation.
Based on my experience, inclusion in sport is optimal for developing greater access for persons with disability to lead a full life. Opportunities for inclusion occur on a daily basis. Through Palms to Pines Parasports, we are part of the movement to remove barriers, create greater awareness about the capabilities of persons with disabilities, and provide opportunities to play.
For further information about Palms to Pines Parasports please go to www.palmstopinesparasports.org.
Michael J. Rosenkratz is the President of the Board of Palm to Pines Parasports.
Superheroes, children and technology
There is a need to develop specific online tools which help this population to be physically active. Shirko Ahmadi tells us about the STAY-A project, which aims to do just that.
Siamand Rahman lifted three baby elephants (310 kg) in a horizontal position at the Rio Paralympic Games. Jason Smyth ran 100 meters with closed eyes in 10.46 seconds at London 2012. Rahman and Smyth are known as the strongest and fastest disabled superheroes in the world. Besides these great achievements for these Paralympic athletes, their motivational role on persons with disabilities is much more laudable.
Most research around para-sports focuses on elite para-athletes’ health and performance. In fact, little to no research has considered the impact of the Paralympic Games on the perceptions and motivations of children with disabilities.
Many children with disabilities, unfortunately, engage in low levels of physical activity. Children with disabilities have faced isolation and exclusion from physical activity and sports even before the COVID-19 pandemic. While plenty of online tools have been developed to motivate people without disabilities to be physically active in restricted environments, or offer solutions to solve health and social problems, the same has not been done for persons with disabilities, who have been largely ignored.
There is a need to develop specific online tools which help this population to be physically active. Therefore, using digital technologies to mediate effective communication among Paralympic athletes and children with disabilities can be a magical motivation for children with disabilities to participate in physical activity programs.
This was the idea of the STAY-A project. In 2020, the Global Design Challenge was launched, aimed at finding solutions to the challenges faced in sport and physical activity as a result of COVID-19. One of the most interesting ideas to come out of this challenge was the STAY-A project, which proposed to implement and develop an application aiming at motivating children, youth and adults with disabilities, by allowing them to engage with Paralympic athletes and coaches in physical activities and sports.
As Donna Haraway says "The machine is not an ‘it’ to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us...an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they". To create an environment whereby this type of barrier is removed, further research and projects are needed in education, planning and implementation of physical activity programmes for children with disabilities.
Shirko Ahmadi has a PhD in Adapted Physical Education and is associated wiwth the Department of Adapted Physical Education at the School of Physical Education in the University of Campinas, Brazil.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
The hidden problem with colours
Given that colour blindness is one of the world’s most common inherited conditions affecting approximately 300 million people worldwide, it is surprising how few people working in sport have any idea of its implications.
We see colour through three types of nerve cells in our eyes called cones, which absorb red, green and blue light. With colour blindness (also known as colour vision deficiency) one cone type doesn’t operate normally.
It’s a well-known fact that colour blind people mix up reds and greens, but people generally aren’t aware this is because the cone defects result in many different colours appearing the same. Reds and greens both appear ‘brown’. Many colour combinations cause similar problems. Reds can appear black, light green and orange can look yellow, pink can be mistaken for blue, green or grey. For colour blind people, the colour ‘purple’ is something of a myth - to them it’s a shade of blue!
As sport is a very visual activity for which the ability to distinguish between colours is critical, not just for players, match officials and spectators, but also for the commercial interests of clubs, broadcasters and sponsors, it’s essential for stakeholders to understand the condition and its impacts.
A staggering 8% of males (1 in 12) are colour blind but only 1 in 200 women are (due to the way colour blindness is inherited). This means colour blindness is a particular issue for male sport. In an average football team, statistically, there will be at least one colour blind player. Put another way, in an average youth academy of 200 boys, 15 or so will have some form of colour blindness. Yet, on the whole, football coaching doesn’t account for colour blindness. This is astonishing since colour blindness can impact the performance of players at all levels of the game.
Thomas Delaney of Denmark (and Borussia Dortmund) admitted to a live radio phone-in, just before he set off to play in the 2018 World Cup, that he had struggled to tell the difference between the kits in the friendly game he had recently played in, between Denmark (in red) and Mexico (in green). But Delaney is unusual in speaking out. There’s a stigma attached to being colour blind, so most coaches have no idea who their colour blind players are.
At grassroots, young children can be put off sport simply because they can’t tell kits or training bib colours apart, easily spot training cones/coloured balls against the pitch or see line markings.
Kit ‘clashes’, coloured balls under floodlights, signage and coloured digital information can be problematic, not only for colour blind people themselves, but also for the commercial interests of clubs. Buying tickets and merchandise can be very frustrating if you can’t understand colour-coded seating plans or recognise the colour of merchandise in the online store. The result is lost revenue.
For clubs and venues though, there are other more serious implications. In a national stadium the size of Wembley, there will be approximately 5,500 colour blind fans attending a capacity game, so it’s essential they can follow information on signs or stadium plans and easily see emergency information.
At Colour Blind Awareness we’ve been working closely with UEFA and some national football associations to raise awareness and create guidance and resources, which have been translated into several languages. But there’s still a huge amount of work to do.
We’ve been extremely lucky to have obtained funding from the EU Erasmus+ Programme for the ‘Tackling Colour Blindness in Sport’ project (TACBIS), one of the aims of which is to raise awareness of the condition at the European level.
The project partners have produced an animation to highlight the areas of football which can be impacted by colour blindness and have been instrumental in obtaining high profile ambassadors for the campaign, including Portugal International and Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who said earlier this year:
“Not being able to watch a UEFA Europa League or a Manchester United match on TV in full colour, to help easily distinguish between teams, referee cards and coloured objects in the stands, seems almost unimaginable to me… That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness, provide greater information and make changes so that those who live with colour blindness don’t feel left out and experience the game to the fullest. Football is a universal language and everyone has the right to speak it clearly and confidently.”
With the help of such amazing ambassadors, we hope that in the near future we will begin to see real changes taking place for the benefit of colour blind people, whatever their interest or involvement in sport.
For more informaiton and resources, including the UEFA guidance for football, visit: https://www.colourblindawareness.org/colour-blindness-and-sport/
Kathryn Albany-Ward is the Founder-CEO, of Colour Blind Awareness.