Including persons with disability in sport
Ability over disability in Saint Lucia
The lack of effective physical activity options and procedures for inclusion of children with disabilities has led to a chronic weakness in play and sport and rehabilitation services and programmes in the Eastern Caribbean.
Saint Lucia based Sacred Sports Foundation (SSF) has long been an advocate for accessible sports for persons with disabilities, who continue to experience stigma, disempowerment, social and economic marginalisation in the region.
SSF is one of the few sports for development registered NGO’s in the Caribbean. Our programmes are typically free to participate in and we ordinarily seek to target the most disadvantaged in communities around Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. We focus on specific SDG’s using sport as a tool for development as well as, physical education and associated life lessons to enhance a range of areas in the communities we serve.
Over the years, SSF has partnered with The Government of Saint Lucia and local stakeholders. International partners have included FIFA Foundation, UEFA Foundation for Children, streetfootballworld, Stoke City Community Trust, Premier League, English Amputee Football Association, Special Olympics, PFA, Laureus Sport for Good, LMA, Peace and Sport, Digicel and most recently the Maria Holder Memorial Trust.
Areas of collaboration have included the inclusion of special school teachers in training programmes, planning and coordination of events directed at promoting physical development and recreation for learners with special needs, and direct interaction with and support of learners with special needs, allowing us to deliver projects that continue to produce long term impact and positive outcomes for all involved.
“This will be the 11th year we have celebrated International Day of Persons with Disabilities” says Nova Alexander, SSF Executive Director. “While physical activity and sport for children with disabilities is not a new concept, its full potential as a powerful low-cost means to foster greater inclusion and well-being for persons with disabilities still has a long way to go.”
The social cost of this exclusion and discrimination is enormous in terms of lost opportunities and poor quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families. This cost includes lost potential for society given the social, economic, and cultural contributions these individuals might be making under more equitable and inclusive circumstances.
SSF is an internationally accredited Active IQ training centre. “Through a variety of adaptive activities, including physical education, inclusive community rehabilitation and interaction, our actions have led to a positive impact on the lives of children and young people with a disability and those who experience social challenges. We have included measures such as ensuring our coaches, mentors and volunteers conduct adapted physical education training and child safeguarding certification, prior to working with persons with disabilities,” continues Nova.
Positive outcomes of SSF’s programmes
- Improved health because of structured physical activity participation
- Increased inclusion awareness in disability sport programming
- Increased understanding of best coaching practices
- Improved communication and inter-personnel skills of youth
- Increased understanding of child rights, child protection and safeguarding among participants, teachers, coaches and mentors
- Youth-led advocacy encouraging greater diversity, inclusion and encouraging greater participation and access for persons with disabilities has been a major achievement
To be effective, SSF prides itself in providing the best possible facilities and resources; however, facilities availability and use continue to be a challenge requiring constant management.
As a large portion of beneficiaries have physical and/or mental challenges, programme activities are monitored closely to ensure everyone gets a chance to participate. However, given such a wide array of disabilities, SSF believes physiotherapy and psycho-social support would be of significant benefit to a broad range beneficiaries and youth mentors. Adding such services in a suitable environment would be a positive addition and something SSF hopes to add moving forward. Thankfully, flexibility and assistance from local partners has meant minimal disruption to our schedule but longer-term this continues to be a concern.
Some innovative ideas
- Culture of inclusion: Mixing beneficiaries and mentors with disabilities with their non-disabled peers, provides unique opportunities for integration and building social capital. SSF programmes seeks to involve children with and without disabilities, their families and wider community in activities carried out. This approach challenges discrimination and promotes a culture of acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities.
- Established position in the community: SSF programmes benefit from past activities carried out over the years. Networks of support to the activities were therefore already established in the local communities to some extent but significantly strengthened.
- Enduring programme: long lasting programmes have enabled the development of strong bonds among beneficiaries, coaches, mentors, teachers, volunteers, and parents/guardians.
- Focused on a shared interest: beneficiaries’ and mentors’ participation is motivated by their interest in healthy lifestyles activity and sport. This has allowed differences between them to become less important and increased their focus on commonalities.
Nova Alexander is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sacred Sports Foundation.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
At the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), we strongly believe that change starts with sport. By organising the world’s third biggest sport event in the Paralympic Games and supporting our 200+ members to develop Para sport and invest in Para athletes, we have seen first-hand how Para sport can transform lives and create opportunities for persons with disabilities at all levels of society.
The rights of people with disabilities to participate fully in society, including sport, is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). However, stigma towards people with disabilities often results in their exclusion from education, employment and health services, amongst other things.
With approximately 80% of the global population with disabilities living in developing countries, the socioeconomic impacts of this exclusion are significant and exacerbate existing inequalities. To tackle these issues, the IPC focuses its work in three key areas: developing members, reducing stigma and advocacy.
To grow access to Para sport globally, from grassroots to high-performance level, the IPC provides organisational and sport development opportunities for its members, most notably through our National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Development Programme, powered by Toyota.
Stronger NPCs lead to an improved offer of Para sport at a national level and increase the number of people living active, healthy lives. Participating in Para sport not only changes how the individual with disabilities sees themselves, but also changes how their families, communities and governments view them, thus creating a paradigm shift from disability to ability. Creating this paradigm shift is a particularly important advocacy tool in societies where government funding for Para sport is lacking.
The performances of athletes involved in Para sport are a powerful tool for tackling stigma towards disabilities. When billions watch the Paralympic Games and see an athlete do something remarkable, it is impossible for them not to favourably change their perceptions of disability.
Apart from the Paralympics, the IPC implements targeted initiatives aimed at reducing stigma. I’mPOSSIBLE, the IPC’s global education programme, is a school-based initiative for learners with and without disabilities, that uses participation in Para sport and the Paralympic values to enhance inclusion. Since 2017, over 200,000 youngsters in 15 countries have participated in I’mPOSSIBLE around the world, with students and learners alike reporting improved attitudes towards people with disabilities after taking part.
The recently launched Para Sports Against Stigma project, in partnership with Loughborough University, aims at tackling discrimination and stigma in order to increase assistive technology adoption in Ghana, Malawi and Zambia through a four-pillar approach: Paralympic education, Para sport development, Paralympic broadcast and research. The project is part of the Global Disability Innovation Hub’s programme called AT 2030 – Life Changing Assistive Technology for All, funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO).
Although sport is a powerful tool to change attitudes, increase mobility and create opportunities for the world’s one billion persons with disabilities, the IPC alone cannot change the world for disabled people. That is why we are creating partnerships with several organisations who share our passion for driving social inclusion.
In 2019 we signed a historic Statement of Intent with the UN SDG Action Campaign, committing to increase the visibility of the SDGs throughout the Paralympic Movement and at upcoming Paralympic Games, whilst helping to change the narrative of disability. The IPC is also a steering group member of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s initiative to measure sport’s contribution to the SDGs. Better data on how sport impacts society will inform future strategy and investment in sport at the national and international level.
More recently, in September 2020, the IPC joined forces with the International Disability Alliance, committing to work together on mutually beneficial inclusive communications campaigns, as well as collaborating on major events such as the IPC Inclusion Summit and Global Disability Summit. Exploring areas of shared interest around strategy, policy development, research and communication will also form part of the partnership.
Call to action
Access to sport for people with disabilities is a fundamental right that must be realised and protected. To do this, we need societies that foster access and opportunity, allow for participation and build equity. We need investment in inclusive design processes and assistive technologies, bringing together the opinions of diverse stakeholders. While we know that sport is not the only solution to this, we believe it has a lot to contribute. Join us this 3 December in stating: Change Starts with Sport.
Ciara Cribben is the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager of the IPC’s Membership Programmes Division. Ciara joined the team in 2017 and, since then, has been instrumental in creating a culture of impact and evidence-based decision-making.
The World Amputee Football Federation
The World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF) supports the development of amputee football around the globe. The organisation’s role is to provide accessible opportunities for those with an amputation or limb deficiency to participate in the sport at both grassroots and elite levels.
WAFF works closely with our member nations, alongside our confederation governing bodies, and currently has 67 nations playing the sport of amputee football around the world, across five geographical areas.
The inclusion of persons with disabilities is natural for WAFF due to the organisation’s values and mission, in which equal and inclusive opportunities are embedded within all of the organisation’s programmes and partner work.
The main challenge around including persons within disability sport is accessibility and perception.
We overcome these challenges by working to ensure anyone with an amputation or limb deficiency has accessible opportunities that are also equal to those within mainstream environments, providing a quality assurance around the delivery of all of WAFF’s programmes. This, in turn, provides WAFF with the opportunity to raise awareness of amputee football, increasing and improving perception of those with a disability participating within sport.
We believe the level of awareness within community settings for persons with a disability is crucial, ensuring they are aware of all the opportunities they have to participate. The awareness comes through the information and resources provided, and the key is understanding the person and providing them with the relevant information. It is important to find the balance by ensuring the person is aware of the opportunity, but equally important is presenting the opportunity in sport to ensure its reflective of the reality of participating.
Working with amputees
It is important that you understand the individual and find out their ambitions, goals and aims. Once this is understood you can find the relevant opportunity that aligns with their short, medium and long term engagement.
Providing an inclusive opportunity to a person with a disability can be extremely powerful, and, in turn, often empowers that individual to further explore and get involved in future opportunities, particularly within a community and grassroots setting.
It is also imperative to create an environment that is suitable to accommodate the needs of disabled persons, but also to provide equal treatment to all participants within that sports environment. Treat each person uniquely, not differently.
The disability sports scene
The disability sports scene has improved over the last ten years, but we believe it will always be a topic where more than can be done to change perception through education. The encouragement will come through raising awareness, educating and challenging those who exclude those with an impairment.
In ten years, we will look back and see the huge distance travelled within inclusivity in sport, and also within society. This has developed phenomenally in the recent years and will continue to transcend.
We believe in focusing on educating rather than policies, because once you educate communities to understand the importance and also the impact persons with a disability can have, this will change society.
With continued efforts at awareness raising and mainstreaming, amputee football and disability sport will continue to grow and gain the traction it deserves with a heightened awareness and education around involving persons with an impairment participating within sport at all levels.
Owen Coyle Jr. is the Head Coach at the England Amputee Football Association.
Disability inclusion a major development focus for Vanuatu Volleyball
Disability inclusion has been one of the great sport for development success stories for Vanuatu over the past three years.
As chronicled earlier this year on sportanddev, ahead of the International Day for People with Disabilities, late 2017 through to 2018 became a launch pad for the sport of Sitting Volleyball in Vanuatu, due to the volcano eruption on the northern island of Ambae. Vanuatu Volleyball Federation (VVF) supported the disability community among those who had to relocate to the neighbouring island of Espiritu Santo, through its Volley4Change (V4C) development program.
Since then, the VVF has worked hard to develop the sport and advocate for disability inclusion in the sport in the small Pacific nation. This advocacy has gained momentum through emerging partnerships between several of Vanuatu’s leading sports federations, including VVF, the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee and local disability services and advocacy organisations.
Through its Volley4Change program, VVF has found value in such partnerships, having signed an MOU with VPC in 2018 and become a member of World ParaVolley (WPV) in 2019 – the only Pacific nation to do so.
Off the back of a very successful Sitting Volleyball coaching course in late 2019, delivered by ParaVolley Asia Oceania (PVAO) and supported by WPV, VVF coaches now deliver weekly training sessions in both the capital Port Vila and in Luganville on Santo, as well as recently being introduced through expanding volleyball activities in the northern Torba Province.
Participation in that course has also resulted in the strong capacity building of local coaches with several developing their knowledge and skills, supported by V4C coaches, through additional coaching workshops supported by programs such as OSEP – the Oceania Sports Education Program.
VVF also plans to further develop its existing para-volleyball coaching capacity through its relationship with PVAO Development Director Wei Ping Tu from Australia – who, with colleague Glenn Stewart, delivered the 2019 workshops - with opportunities for participation in further international coaching clinics expected to emerge once international restrictions relating to COVID-19 have lifted.
While 2020 has proven to be a challenging year globally due to the pandemic, with Vanuatu, like many countries, ostensibly cut off from the world, VVF has taken the opportunity to work hard at developing and consolidating its V4C programs. Beyond supporting programs that work on gender and health, V4C has been working particularly on expanding the para-volley initiatives to include Para Beach Volleyball and Standing Volleyball.
Initiatives like this do not come without challenges - logistical, cultural and financial. For people with disabilities in small and remote communities, transport and access are always an issue, with purpose-built vehicles non-existent and personal support equipment such as wheelchairs difficult to obtain and use in inhospitable terrain.
One of the other key challenges being met is the level of awareness within communities about the opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sports such as Para-Volleyball and their entitlement to do so. But through the developing V4C para-volley initiatives and events such as the Para Sports Championships, held in June this year as a part of the Vanuatu 40th Independence celebrations, the awareness among the disability community about sport being available for them to participate in is growing.
Through these activities and the expanding V4C community programs, new issues are also being identified, such as school children with disabilities being exempted from participation in sport and physical education activities.
VVF is now looking to develop its relationships with schools and education authorities, especially in rural and remote regions, to introduce inclusive sports, such as para-volleyball, into their activities, supported by V4C staff.
While an exciting road lies ahead for Para-Volleyball in Vanuatu, key building blocks, such as effective partnerships supporting participation and community awareness, as well as government policies relating to disability inclusion in sport, will be essential for its sustainability.
Vanuatu Volleyball’s goals are to not only develop the various forms of para-volleyball at the community level, but to also eventually develop para-athletes to a high-performance level, where they can take on the world, just as the National Women’s Beach Volleyball team has done, creating champions, role models and strong advocates for the community.
Volley4Change has been supported by the Australian-government funded sport for development program Pacific Sports Partnerships, in partnership with Volleyball Australia, since 2014 providing key financial support for the development of volleyball at the community level, addressing issues around gender empowerment, health and more recently disability inclusion. While the PSP program is wrapping up in December, VVF in collaboration with its various partners, intends to continue the strong V4C development programming it has created over the past six years.
Jill Scanlon is a Media and Communications consultant for VVF.
The Special Olympics
A backyard summer camp may seem to some to be the unlikely place to launch a worldwide revolution of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. However, this is the origin story of the Special Olympics movement.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was not just a concerned citizen; she was a sister of someone with intellectual disabilities. She knew firsthand the pain of the exclusion faced by people with disabilities and their families. However, she had also grown up playing sports with her sister and knew how the simple act of play could be a powerful platform to empower and include.
From this humble beginning, Special Olympics has become the largest grassroots disability sports organization in the world. Over the last 50 years, Special Olympics has developed to include programs in over 190 countries and territories and now has six million athletes training and competing around the world.
The strength of the Special Olympics movement is woven into the oath taken by athletes before they compete: ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ It is understood most vividly in the stories of athletes themselves. 23-year-old Emanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza faced many serious obstacles early in her childhood – some so serious that it threatened to exclude her from the rich community life of her native Brazil.
“When I was 2 years old, I had seizure that left me in a coma for a week. After I got back home my parents noticed that I was having difficulties in walking and talking, so doctors recommended my parents to move to a calmer place where I could avail more therapy. My parents left everything behind in Rio de Janeiro where we used to live, so we could move to a smaller city three hours away.”
But Emanuelle’s family continued to struggle to find the right therapy and supports for their daughter.
“It was hard for me and many people for many people with disabilities in Brazil to find therapy and support. I was shy and had a hard time talking to people. In 2013, Special Olympics Brazil came to my city to do a Coach Training and they invited the local NGO my mother founded to demonstrate a football match. After this training and becoming involved in Special Olympics, my life completely changed.”
Emanuelle’s introduction to the world of Special Olympics unleashed a new-found sense of confidence in the football loving young woman. Soon she was competing at major sporting competitions and enjoying the types of opportunities that so often are denied to people with disabilities.
“Sports to me is everything. It is a tool for inclusion. Unified Sports, Special Olympics’ inclusive sports program, changes the vision of those that have not yet had a chance to have close contact with people with intellectual disabilities and therefore don't really know what we are capable of.
“In 2014, I participated in the Special Olympics Brazil National Games and earned the gold medal and the opportunity to represent my country at the Special Olympics 2015 World Games in Los Angeles on a Unified Football team, made of teammates with and without intellectual disabilities. At these Games we won a bronze medal. In 2018 I also competed at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Unified Cup in Chicago, where we earned a silver medal. Every time I have participated on a Unified Team, I have felt that we have had a real conversation and exchanged of knowledge that we usually don't have the opportunity to do. We had to help each other on and off the field. I felt included and I didn't feel judged for being myself.”
Emanuelle not only became a successful athlete, but also an empowered leader both on and off the sports field. The Special Olympics movement strives to be not just for people with intellectual disabilities, but from them. The Special Olympics Athlete Leadership program helps athletes develop their skills to be advocates and take on leadership roles in the organization.
“In 2018 I also I participated at the Global Youth Leadership Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan and was selected as a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger to represent Latin America region. Since then, I have given speeches at the Special Olympics World Games as a Global Messenger and have also spoken on a panel at the United Nations about inclusion in sports and the workplace.”
A multi-country study has shown that participating in Unified Sports helped 79% of participants without disabilities to develop deeper understanding of their peers with disabilities. Further, 87% of athletes with intellectual disabilities report feeling better and more confident about themselves after participating in Unified Sports. These positive attitudes towards disability inclusion and soft skills like self-confidence are critical to take from the playing field into all aspects of society.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals have committed the global community to “Leave No One Behind”. However, for people with disabilities, serious attitude barriers persist. Negative attitudes towards disability are codified into discriminatory laws and translated into exclusionary practices that impact all sectors, from education to health to decent work opportunities.
Emanuele’s story provides one striking example of how sport can be such an effective vehicle to break down these barriers.
“Sports to me is everything. It is a tool for inclusion. I feel that I matter because Special Olympics has shown me abilities that I didn't know I had, Special Olympics believed in me and made me believe in myself, gave me a platform to speak and to be heard, gave me courage, confidence, self-esteem, a voice through sport and leadership.”
Emanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza is also a Special Olympics athlete from Brazil. She plays football and beach volleyball and has won numerous medals at competitions from the local to international level. She is a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for Special Olympics and works as an administrative assistant in a human resources department.
Meghan Hussey is Senior Manager of Global Youth and Education Programming at Special Olympics International Headquarters in Washington DC. In her role, Meghan is primarily responsible for growing partnerships with governments, NGOs, and research institutions to promote inclusive development through sport in the education and youth sectors around the world.
Integrating people with disabilities in sport in universities and schools
Mahmoud Shihata explains how sport can be made more inclusive in Egypt, especially in rural communities
Sports is one of the most important and successful tools that can be used to integrate individuals with different disabilities in society. Everyone has the right to practice sports, so our role, as coaches, must be of guiding and advising such individuals on how to join the sports field.
In Egypt, there is a scarcity of sport for development organizations that include or focus on integrating people with disabilities in and through their programs. Hence, efforts so far in this field have been limited.
Though the government has cooperated with some sports federations on this issue, more can be done in this field. It is imperative that in developing countries, as much support is extended to organizations that work with people with disabilities. A recognition and investment in the Special Olympics in Egypt has shown that partnerships are important and can further consolidate such integration and inclusion programs.
Integrating people with disabilities in sports in universities and schools
I believe that universities and schools must be targeted as potential avenues for integration and inclusion programs, since these are the spaces where the future generation of the society is learning and growing.
However, someone with a disability is studying at school or university may feel that they cannot play sports for the following reasons:
- They do not believe in themselves and their ability to do any physical activity, because of their disability
- They believe that sport may adversely affect their studies
- Their family does not believe that sport can be used as a tool to integrate them into society
All of these reasons are a challenge we face when we try to integrate people with disabilities into a sporting program, especially in rural communities in developing countries, where there is not only a lack of services for the disabled, but also a culture of avoiding such people and their issues.
Therefore, we need to strive to addresses these challenges through these the following:
- Conducting activities inside villages, schools, and universities which highlight success stories of people with disabilities. For example, highlighting the story of Mohammad Al-Kilany, the first Egyptian and Arab who ran 100 km with an artificial limb
- Creating a special program for players to train them on how to include people with disabilities in trainings, in cooperation with Paralympic and Special Olympic federations
- Creating separate programs for families of people with disabilities to show the safe environment that sport can offer their children on a personal and societal level
- Establishing a vocational rehabilitation program to support people with disabilities at a professional level, so that they become successful individuals with a tangible role to play in society
These solutions may require the presence of resources such as an online platform that contains best practices on integrating people with disabilities in sport, for trainers and physical education teachers to access for their programs. This platform could also include a section for people with disabilities, so that they can realize the possibilities for them in sports. This section could highlight the different activities they can participate in and the training facilities where they could do so. Another section could also highlight success stories of persons with disabilities in the sporting realm, as well as ways in which other organizations, individuals, federations and government bodies can support such initiatives.
Ideas for integration
Some ways in which people with disabilities could be encouraged to engage in sports, especially for school and university students in rural areas in developing countries, include:
- Allowing students with disabilities in schools and universities to participate in sporting activities, while making awareness programs for non-disabled students on how to integrate disabled students in sporting activities
- Creating a sports league that includes a group of physical activities where both disabled and non-disabled students practice with each other
- Focusing on giving individuals with disabilities a leadership role during training, which would increase their self-confidence
- Expanding the work of sports academies in rural areas, in partnership with youth centers and relevant federations
Mahmoud Shihata has a Bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Physical Education, Menoufia University, Egypt. He is a member in the UN SGDs Advocates Program with the United Nations Resident Coordinator Office in Egypt.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Keeping wheelchair users active during the lockdown
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust has been working to create an inclusive activity to keep wheelchair users active and social during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sports and recreational activities are crucial for the physical and mental health of all people. For people with disabilities, staying physically active is equally important, and has been linked strongly to various physical, psychological and social benefits. However, a study revealed that in Hong Kong, 36 per cent of the adults with disabilities spent less than 20 minutes per week on physical activities or simply did not take part in any kind of sports. This is an alarming figure that the sector has to address.
Respondents considered the lack of knowledgeable coaches who understand their needs and the relatively expensive sports course fees are their major barriers to enjoy sports. Many time, persons with disabilities are restricted by the design and inadequacy of sports facilities, equipment and sport activities available to them.
Being one of the world’s top ten charity donors, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust firmly believes in the power of sports to transform lives. Our aim is to lower the entry barriers to participating in sports, promote active participation and sportsmanship, and make sports fun and accessible to all.
Sports has unique ability to transcend linguistic, cultural and social barriers, which makes it an ideal tool for fostering social inclusion and well-being, especially for people with disabilities. In the past years, we have been supporting various organisations to run inclusive sports programmes, including providing multi-sports opportunities to the mentally or physically challenged, to training PE teachers at special schools, building modified and adapted sports to their students with special needs, and providing audio description services for the visually impaired to enjoy different sports games with their sighted peers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health has been very important for all. Recently, we have supported the design and development of a set of card games, aimed at motivating wheelchair users to perform different moves to stay active at home and keep socialising (albeit virtually) with their communities. Specially designed by physiotherapists, along with testing and feedback from wheelchair users of different abilities, the moves of the card games aim to train different muscle groups of the players, as well as act as a tool to initiate conversations with friends and relatives.
Innovation and empowerment are key success factors of this project, where the wheelchair users are important co-creator of the game. Apart from having fun at the design and testing workshops, the players become proud ambassadors of the game, spreading the importance of active living despite the social distancing.
Going forward, we will continue to systematically build an enabling and sustainable environment to promote disability sports, including supporting meaningful programmes, building capacity in the sport sector and investing in facilities that are age- and disability-friendly. We also hope to leverage the power of technology to connect people and make sports more accessible. Who knows, in the ‘new normal’ maybe we can all connect and compete in sport across borders at our homes, irrespective of our gender, race, age or abilities?
Debbie Yau works at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, and aspires to make sports accessible to all. Find out more about the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust here.
South African community-based physical activity programmes for adults with disabilities: A success story
A community-based activity programme for persons with disabilities in South Africa aims to provide people with acquired disabilities with skills and attitudes that would improve their functional abilities, independence and health.
South Africa is one of the most human rights based countries in the world in terms of policies and legislation, yet people with disabilities remain a marginalised community. People with disabilities make up approximately 5.1% of the population. Yet, according to the South African Human Rights Commission, continue to lack access to adequate health care, basic education and have little prospect in terms of securing employment.
This is exacerbated by the socio-economic divides where economically poor communities are affected more in times of environmental disasters or health crises, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is in these communities where the need for self-help and support for people with disabilities are most acute.
Although South Africans with disabilities face many challenges in their daily lives in terms of personal, environmental, societal and program barriers, physical activity has proven to be an effective vehicle in improving people’s quality of life. The benefits of physical activity are vast and, according to the WHO, include lower rates of chronic conditions, healthier body mass and composition, improved cardiovascular and muscular fitness and reduced risk of fractures. In persons with disabilities, across artificial divides of race, class and gender, it also helps to reduce stigma, improves mood and enjoyment through social interaction.
This initiative grew out of a PhD study. The researcher observed that people with acquired disabilities were not coping with their disabilities once discharged back into their communities. This is mainly due to the lack of support received from healthcare services.
This inspired the researcher to stand in the gap and develop a program and intervention that would give people with disabilities opportunities to work on their abilities using physical activity and structured exercise within their community. This collectively addresses and reduces some of the barriers that people with disabilities face in being physically active in terms of the environment, personal and program barriers.
The program started in a small economically impoverished community in the Western Cape (Macassar), South Africa. The group started with five adults with spinal cord injuries and they got together bi-weekly to work on their abilities.
The aim was to provide people with skills and attitudes that would improve their functional abilities, independence and health, and also reduce the burden on the health care system. The group has been operating since its inception in 2015.
When the intervention ended, the group was adopted by Bridging Abilities, a non-profit company. The group has since grown to approximately 24 people and now includes people with various disabilities (congenital and acquired). The initiative has also expanded into other communities, in partnership with ChangeAbility, a non-profit organisation, which assists in offering social support as well.
Participants are provided with basic exercise equipment, a venue that is accessible in a safe location, a suitable program at no cost, and training of local group members and volunteers on scientific exercise.
Initially the researcher, also a health care worker, attended every session, to make sure that correct principles were followed for safe exercise. Gradually, the group took ownership.
The group has shown that a community based physical activity group is indeed possible by taking ownership of their own health, supporting one another within the group, socialising and enjoying one another’s company as they exercise. One group member, who has a C4-C6 incomplete spinal cord injury states:
“I was very weak, and the exercises helped to strengthen me as well as improve my mood. I became a lot more positive about life. I did not want to be around people and did not want to face the challenges it presented. I now look forward to the sessions and I keep encouraging people to join the group. I even approach the local radio station to advertise the group."
The presence of strong leaders within the group, to encourage, motivate and support people when needed is a golden nugget for continued participation.
Supportive family members and spouses also play important roles, as they are the vehicle -in a very literal sense- that drives the person to the group and picks up other members on the way. As one group member puts it:
“To be disabled was big adaptation for me, but with the support of my family, especially my wife, I realised it was not the end of my road. It was a start to a new life with new people, a new family.”
The group has established partnerships in the local community, which breaks down stigmas and stereotypes. One example is the local supermarket who invites the group to manage a gift wrapping station over the festive season. All proceeds go to Bridging Abilities as a contribution to attend a wheelchair race in George. Our group thus remains focussed as a community project but we try to avoid becoming an isolated unit.
The challenges that remain are finding appropriate public and private institutions to partner with. This is necessary so that more community based groups can be established. We require more accessible buildings, and opportunities for people with disabilities to access sport and leisure that are suitable and affordable.
Although we are locally based organisation, we believe that this model is replicable in the broader South African context in order to harness golden nuggets that overcomes issues and challenges in South African community-based physical activity programmes for adults with disabilities.
Dr. Francois Cleophas is a senior lecturer in sport history at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His focus field is community sport histories with a special emphasis on physical culture. He has published over 30 articles in peer reviewed journals, seven book chapters and one edited volume. His forthcoming book publication: Critical Reflections on Physical Culture at the Edges of Empire, is a collection of essays from international scholars that hones in on physical culture practices in marginalised settings.
Dr Candace Vermaak is a lecturer at the Sport Science Department, Stellenbosch University. Her field of interest include disability, sport, recreation and rehabilitation. She has been involved in the disability sector since 2003. Her background and expertise come from coaching Western Province Goalball teams and being a representative on disability sport committees, to completing a Masters in Adapted Physical Activity and starting up her own NPC (creating physical activity opportunities for persons with disabilities) and working in rehabilitation (health and wellness) at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre and ChangeAbility (NPO). Her passion is to help people achieve health and wellness using physical activity as a catalyst.
The Uganda Blind Sport Association (UBSA)
The Uganda Blind Sport Association (UBSA) strives to make sport more inclusive for the visually impaired, even while facing many challenges.
The Uganda Blind Sports Association (UBSA) is a national organization charged with sports for people with visual impairments. It is affiliated to and a member of Uganda Paralympic Committee.
Uganda Blind Sport Association is a disabled motivated organization, focused on blind and visually impaired persons. We have also included the people living with albinism and individuals in the deaf/blind categories as part of our sports categories as well.
Working in the sport and disability landscape is always challenging, but the top three challenges faced by the UBSA are:
- Scarcity of funding
- Shortage of playing equipment and facilities
- Shortage of technically qualified like coaches, referees, classifiers, guides and administrators.
To overcome the funding scarcity, UBSA has organized community fundraising events and social media fundraising campaigns. Though these have been fairly successful, more funds are required to make a lasting and impactful change.
Further, to fulfil our need to equipment, we have adopted to use locally made playing equipment, which is made from PVC pipes, wood, rubber and other such materials. This equipment is used to play games such as goalball, athletics and showdown.
As UBSA, we have also carried out clinics and workshops in different regions of the country aimed at training officials, technical personals and administrators. We use learning materials from the internet, accessing the websites of other blind sport organizations and watching clips on YouTube.
Existing policies and the future opportunities
Most of the existing policies that are enacted are good, but the problem lies in implementation – a gap remains between policy development and on-ground implementation.
To aid in the wholistic development of disabled persons, there should be a 10% policy on inclusion on all government procurements. Further, digital and information communication technologies must be harnessed by persons with disabilities, to grow their own knowledge and fit their needs. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more things have moved online, the needs of persons with disabilities in the online realm need to be considered.
An easy way to encourage the development of disabled sports would be to give tax exemptions on all sports equipment for sports federation which focus on disabled sports. Further, we should look towards a future where sports can become and employment venture for persons with disabilities – this will also entail a reduction in unemployment levels among persons with disabilities.
Jagwe Muzafaru is the National Coordinator at UBSA.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Making sport inclusive: Perspectives from Peru
To make sport and recreation more inclusive, we must change the attitude of the general public towards disabilities, by raising awareness around para-sport and by mainstreaming persons with disabilities into society from a young age.
In Peru, there are very few policies or spaces for recreation and sports that promote inclusion. In order to make inclusive sports a reality, we must focus on changing the attitudes of the general public towards disabilities. This can be done by raising awareness around international para-sporting events and by media campaigns around para-sports and para-athletes. Further, inclusion must be mainstreamed into the schooling system, so that awareness is raised from a young age.
Para-sports in South America
In the South American region, most of the work is being done in conventional sports. There has been some work on the promotion of women’s sports, which is related to SGD 5, gender equality. Given the success in women’s sport, I think it is crucial that the UN considers and SGD specifically for inclusion of people with disabilities, so that more programs and projects can be developed to reach disabled people.
According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population has a disability. I propose that developed countries should work towards promoting the issues of disability and inclusion, and should increase the numbers of projects that are disability friendly in developing countries, like Peru.
Further, more visibility should be granted to international contests in disability sport, to increase acceptance and investment. For example, in 2019, Peru hosted the Para Pan-American Games in Lima. This saw many public campaigns, which increased people’s awareness and respect for the disabled and on issues of inclusion.
At a national policy level, there is a long road ahead of us. Many of us are continually fighting for the government to raise budgets and spend more money on the training of para-athletes, but this has not been realised.
For a successful program, there need to be well-structured foundations. Thus, part of the path to success to develop the potential of people with disabilities is to train teachers and instructors in the concepts of and approaches to disability and inclusion.
Inclusion needs to be worked on starting from schools, since children and adolescents are the future of the country, those who will govern and implement these policies. There is barely any funding for disabled children to be exposed to para sports in public schools.
In school and university curricula, include teaching and the practice of para or adapted sports would build awareness and knowledge, thus generating inclusion. This will also promote people to think beyond conventional sports.
Policies need to focus on not only the elite athletes, but also every disabled person who wants to participate in sports, even recreationally. People with disabilities need to be given the opportunity to participate in sporting programs, since they are often denied such experiences. By building spaces for such activities, people with disabilities could develop in a more holistic manner.
Luis Edwin Torres Paz has a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education, a Master's in Cognitive Psychology and a Doctorate in Education. He is passionate about sports for development and disability. You can find him on LinkedIn.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]