Including persons with disability in sport
Less barriers, more inclusion opportunities for athletes with disabilities: Perspectives from Latin America
Carolina Recalde explains the barriers that athletes with disabilities face in Latin America, focusing on Ecuador and Guatemala.
The practice of sports is a right for every person, including people with disabilities. However, this group faces many internal and external barriers that do not allow them to claim their rights.
One barrier is the lack of adequate infrastructure adapted to their needs. In the case of Ecuador, the Paralympic Committee and the corresponding sports federations for people with disabilities have to rely on the support of third parties to use their facilities, most of which do not offer the proper conditions. “The problem is that the authorities that do not work with people with disabilities do not understand the challenges that they face and the special needs of our athletes”, states Patricia Leon, President of the Ecuadorian Paralympic Committee.
A second obstruction is related to economic constraints. The Ecuadorian Paralympic Committee manages two kinds of budgets provided by the National Sports Secretariat: one that allows them to carry on the annual operation plan and another that is for the implementation of the high-performance program.
However, it is not enough. They have only been able to assist 36 athletes with disabilities and cover only 6 of the 24 provinces of the country. Thus, there remain many unattended athletes and territories. Moreover, there are other Latin America nations such as Guatemala that do not even have this kind of economic support and autonomy.
“The focus of sport always prioritizes care for people without disabilities; therefore financial support for international participation is limited and difficult to get”, affirms Juan Diego Blas, Paralympic athlete, current Sport for Social Development Chief of the Olympic Committee of Guatemala and Co-founder of United Play International.
A large obstacle is the perceptions that both people with and without disabilities have. On one hand, there are people with disabilities that don’t acknowledge their capabilities and think that they can’t achieve their dreams and can’t play sports. Discriminatory practices that they face daily only reinforce these thoughts.
On the other hand, there are many people without disabilities that have prejudices regarding the abilities and talents of people and athletes with disabilities. They do not take the time to be well informed and aware that a person with a disability requires some specific needs. Such perceptions often come from parents and relatives of athletes with disabilities, who then overprotect them and keep them in a bubble, not giving them the space and freedom that they require and deserve.
“Discrimination begins in the mind and the population must be sensitized to eliminate taboos and stereotypes that only serve to hurt. Everyone must understand that people with disabilities are still citizens with rights and obligations who can do many things,” says Patricia, who is struggling to raise awareness in the Ecuadorian population and authorities.
Education is a must in this process. Education must start at home and then be reinforced in schools from the earliest stages of life, providing information but also awareness-raising spaces regarding the rights and duties of people with disabilities and the proper treatment towards them. This is also applicable in the sports arena, where their right to practice sports must be acknowledged, respected and fulfilled.
Something that Juan Diego said that could help in this process is the implementation of Paralympic education projects at the national level in order to “create greater interest in the participation of people with disabilities and greater involvement of people without disabilities.”
The path towards the inclusion of people and athletes with disabilities is riddled with barriers. However, a change in the attitudes and actions of all citizens in a country can help us overcome these barriers and create a fertile ground where people with disabilities can thrive. This includes economic and technical support from the government and other public and private institutions. It is possible for us to change our minds and give room to athletes with disabilities to show their talents and to realize their rights and dreams.
Carolina Recalde is the Partnerships Coordinator at FUDELA, an Ecuadorian NGO. She has more than 10 years of experience in communications, public relations, cooperation and sports for development.
Nothing is impossible: When physical disabilities becomes enablers in life
This cross-interview explores the power of sport and the need to break barriers through the eyes of two athletes who go beyond their disabilities to make everything possible.
Maximilien Thilo is 30 years old and was born fully blind. He is passionate about snow sports and watersports and constantly pushes his limits, in particular with his two sisters. He enjoys skiing, sailing and mountain biking. His nickname is the #BlindRider. He has reached a speed of 115.5km/h on skis, with his guide Denis.
He also does yoga, hiking and gym workouts. He has tried his hand at slacklining, climbing, surfing, windsurfing, paragliding, rowing, horse riding, skateboarding, etc. Max and his family's motto is: There is always a solution, you simply have to be creative.
Celine van Till is 29 years old and was 17 when, as a junior member of the Swiss equestrian team, she was in an accident while training with her horse. This fall left her in a coma, partially tetraplegic and with serious head injuries. She had to re-learn everything, from talking to eating and walking. Today, Celine continues to learn to live with the burden of permanent after-effects, such as a challenging balance and coordination, and poor eyesight (she has visual field loss of 50% and diplopia – i.e. she sees two images of the same object).
But elite sport continued to play a critical role in her life and in 2016, Celine took part in the Rio Paralympic Games in dressage. Two years later, she announced she would swap sports and is now eying her second Paralympic participation in Tokyo 2020, this time in athletics (100m sprint).
Visit the following pages for more information on Celine van Till:
Where do you find the energy and courage to practice so much sport and to keep pushing your limits?
MT: All this is thanks to my family and friends. Since I was a child, they have always taken me along for their activities and do not differentiate between me and others. I am lucky to be able to practice these sports and to rely on such a creative and caring entourage. They always find a solution for me: they adapt the equipment; they find a better route, or they give me the most suitable task.
Like everyone else, I like my comfort zone. Often, my entourage has more confidence in me than I do in myself, and so they push me a little, which encourages me. Once I get out of my comfort zone or do something I thought was impossible, it makes me feel alive! I feel very proud.
In fact, the Swiss Federation for Blind (FSA) is in the process of creating a new group of young people (to do sports, cultural activities, social gatherings, game sessions, etc.) for those who don't have such an active family like mine.
CvT: My energy comes from a true and deep passion for life. I love to take up challenges and I love the adrenaline it brings. Every challenge pushes me to move forward – both on the track and in my life. I always want to explore how far I can go. While I was a very focused and driven young athlete before the accident, escaping death so narrowly made the strong and resilient person I am today.
But the journey was not always simple. My entourage also played, and continues to play, a critical role. My family, my close friends, my training mates… I keep learning from so many people around me! I am lucky to be able to rely on many role models, from my coach to training partners or well-known personalities I meet. Today, I feel like a sponge which is so thirsty for new experiences and to enrich my life toolbox. And competitive sport definitely taught me a lot and made the person I am today.
How can we break down more barriers to increase access to different sports for people with disabilities?
MT: I don't think it is possible to break down all barriers. Disability is a reality we have to deal with. But you can get over many of these barriers with a little help. Such support can take various forms. For example, creativity in order to adapt equipment or an activity, or it could be coaches, clubs and organisations which must bear in mind that there are individuals with very specific needs.
Our society must be a little more open to differences and diversity and it must be ready to provide strategies and solutions for the inclusion of everyone. I find that a good way to start an activity is to go and try a session with a group of people with the same disability and coaches who understand our limitations and challenges, which can vary greatly for each individual. It's a way to get your foot in the stirrup safely.
CvT: We must continue to promote, communicate and advocate for enhanced access to the benefits of sport for every form of disability. Quite importantly, our stories should not be set in pathos and generate pity. Instead, we want people to discover our journey in life and get inspired by our strength and resilience. This is one of the reasons why I have decided to set-up a charity, Association Tout Est Possible (Everything is Possible), to not only support other young athletes with disabilities, but also to shed a fresh and positive light on how we turn challenges into opportunities.
We can all learn from each other, and my message is also targeted at decision- and law-makers: we must take great care to protect our rights, including the right to access and enjoy the many physical and psychosocial benefits of sport. I am also working on my second book right now (to be published in 2021), as I want my story and learnings in life to be shared and to inspire more people.
Is it more important for you to practice sport with other people with disabilities or to be mixed with (so-called) “abled” people?
MT: I find that for initiations, it is probably best to be with other people sharing the same disability. It is reassuring. But for my part, I have immense pleasure in doing sport with everyone. It's a moment during which I forget about my disability, I feel (almost) like everyone else and I create memories with friends. For example, when I get on board the sailing boat, I really feel like I'm leaving my disability ashore. This is something that makes me feel good mentally - it is good for my heart, my spirit and my mind. I feel valued and no longer categorised. I know that I can do almost the same thing as my teammates. I like to be mixed up.
CvT : Both are important. Again, I believe that in every situation, we can learn from each other – it is a question of attitude. My regular training sessions take place with “normal,” abled athletes and this is so cool to feel 100% part of a team. Sometimes, however, the national federation brings together athletes with similar disabilities and it is also enriching to share challenges, tips and motivation with my other partners in crime!
What are the benefits of doing sport in your everyday life?
MT: I'm not a big fan of competition, even if I've tasted it a bit in the past. I don't need it to find my balance. And I think this is OK!
Sport does me a lot of good on a psycho-social level. I enjoy a stronger self-esteem. With sport, I get this “I can do it” attitude and it allows me to meet more people. Sharing a moment and creating memories is invaluable and always special. To illustrate this, I can only recommend the movie Tandems which talks about the link between a guide and a blind skier.
Physically, sport helps me to feel better and improves my mobility, coordination and balance – hence my autonomy too. I breathe better and I feel more relaxed. Sport means well-being for me; if they take sport away from me, they take away a big chunk of my freedom.
CvT: Doing sport and enjoying the beauty of elite sport helps me develop many capabilities, physically and mentally, as well as building new and strong friendships. Sport shows me every day how everything can be made possible. With my coach and entourage, medical team and training buddies, we can always find solutions to my physical challenges. It requires constant adaptation and lots of creativity. Sport has also taught me how to best manage my emotions and how to deal with permanent change - and this is a part of my life I have improved vastly over the last couple of years (so my entourage says). Sport helps me to love and enjoy life, and to keep pushing forward. Sport is also like a game, a constant challenge to overcome barriers and to set new goals.
Anne-Sophie Thilo is the caring sister of Max, an Olympian (sailing, Beijing 2008), the Founder of communication agency Ekkut.com, and an advisor and supporter of Celine van Till
Philippe Furrer is a movement and sports activist, a serial sports and social entrepreneur, and the Founder of insPoweredBy.ch
Program adapts, but mission remains the same for Smash Down Barriers
The global pandemic may have shifted the course of many sporting activities around the globe, but the Smash Down Barriers Table Tennis Disability Program (SDB) has successfully navigated the storm to continue its mission to help promote community, inclusion and good physical and mental health across the Oceania region.
Smash Down Barriers contributes to improving outcomes for people with a disability (PwD) in the Pacific who are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the region. The program currently operates in Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu. The program is funded through an Australian Government aid program and managed by ITTF‑Oceania. Activities are delivered by Pacific Table Tennis Federations, in collaboration with national disability organisations and relevant government ministries.
While this year has meant some restrictions for programs in schools, there have still been many great moments to celebrate.
Fiji Table Tennis Association (FTTA) recently celebrated International Deaf Awareness week with the local deaf community. The day featured educational sessions as well as fun and inclusive table tennis games, the latter proving to be the highlight for many participants. FTTA works closely with the Fiji Association of the Deaf to deliver successful events, raise awareness and to promote and improve inclusion opportunities for those with hearing impairments.
Fiji Table Tennis Association’s role in SDB is to bring people together through table tennis and have fun, whilst engaging in physical activity. FTTA has an ‘opportunities for all’ mindset when it comes to table tennis and days of celebration, as highlighted by the diverse range of days and events they celebrate, including the International Day for People with Disabilities, Day for Women & Girls, local youth celebrations, Fiji Day, Civil Wellness Outreach, etc.
As part of the SDB program, Pacific Table Tennis Federations are also encourgaed to provide athletes with disabilities with similar opportunities as able bodied athletes. This is to be done not only by participating in table tennis sessions, but also by providing chances for the indivudals to have personal growth and aspirations.
Tonga’s most recent initiative of a community-wide business house competition has done just this. The event was inclusive and empowered individuals with disabilities by creating an equal playing field, where a new-found respect has grown for them as they showcased their skills, including a team from Naunau Alamaite Tonga Association (NATA).
NATA is an organisation that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, with an aim to improve their situation in Tonga. Team NATA members demonstrated their skills, resulting in changing the perceptions of those around them. “Team NATA players are very skillful despite their disabilities. After our loss we no longer underestimate what they can achieve,” said Bruno Falevi, member of team Matatoa.
Tonga also continues to deliver the Bounce it Back Table Tennis Schools program, with table tennis leading to increased levels of physical activity of youth, whilst simultaneously educating them about important values like equal treatment of their peers and the importance of inclusion over discrimination, leading to greater acceptance of people with a disability.
Vanuatu also continues to deliver activities on an ongoing basis. Their SDB program recently celebrated Vanuatu’s 40th Independence Day in style, by holding an inclusive Fun Day and competition aimed at bringing the community together.
Vanuatu's Rodney Ben encourages you to hear about the positive impact that the SDB program is having on individuals, and the ripple effect on communities by viewing a short video on the SDP program. In the video, Rodney talks about how table tennis gave him confidence and changed his life.
Despite the tough times rippling around the world, the SDB program and table tennis continue to work hard to provide a simple and fun means to keep communities together, to keep them mentally and physically active, to bring them together no matter their differences, and to educate the future youth to embrace everyone in their communities.
All countries are now focused on celebrating with communities in style the International Day of People with Disabilities on Dec 3rd.
Football as a tool for inclusion for children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic
DeportVida has adapted its sporting activities for disabled children and youth to ensure that they remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the recreation and health needs of people with disabilities were neglected. With the onset of lockdown measures around the world, the situation only worsened. The confinement means that people have not been able to socialize with their peers and have been disconnected from others. Such situations have often led to aggressive and disruptive behaviors.
Since 2017, at DeportVida, in Trujillo, Peru, we have developed the Sport without Limits program, where we provide a space for recreation and socialization through soccer to children and youth with Down’s syndrome, autism, and other developmental disabilities. However, with the onset of the pandemic, we had to adapt our methodology, and make our program available virtually.
We resumed our classes virtually in July. Every Tuesday, the participants join the class on Zoom, and they are also sent exercise tutorials by WhatsApp. “Family support is essential, because the participants may need help to connect to the class, or may need to be supported during the class. The families and participants have managed to adopt to this new normal. Participants are able to identify the teacher through the screen and they obey the instructions. They also see and greet their classmates, and we notice that they still enjoy their classes, albeit virtually,” says Rina Gamarra Tananta, the project coordinator at DeportVida.
Professor Guillermo Valderrama, who is in charge of the classes, points out: “We have tried to adapt the routines we did on the field. We work on aerobic exercises and body activation, so that participants can maintain good physical conditions. We have combined these with exercises specific to soccer, such as passing the ball and kicking inside.” The participants also receive nutrition counselling, since the lack of physical activity can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity.
DeportVida, through its Sport without Limits program, seeks to promote the importance of meeting the recreational and health needs of people with disabilities. However, we also face many challenges, including:
- Limited public spaces suitable for adapted sport activities
- Lack of interest on the part of the authorities in meeting the needs of people with disabilities to engage in recreational sporting activities
- Difficulty accessing sport equipment such as boccias or goalballs
To combat these challenges, we have sought to present a municipal ordinance proposal for the preferential use of public sport spaces for people with disabilities. Alliances have been established with local authorities for joint work, although the support has been limited.
For acquisition of equipment, we have applied for financing from the Australian High Commission in Peru which will allow us to acquire the equipment and also develop a training program for coaches, physical education teachers and promoters of adapted sports.
In the last 3 years, we have learned many lessons, such as:
- Including the family in the activities reinforces the progress made by participants in the classes
- Having trained support staff is essential to the development of sporting sessions
- There is an unmet demand to develop programs that promote specialized physical activities, adapted to the specific disabilities of the participants. Specialized training opportunities should be promoted, since the few that exist are located in Lima
In this new context of a pandemic, we must not neglect people with disabilities. "This pandemic affects us all, but we cannot ignore people with disabilities, who need to lead a physically and emotionally healthy life. We hope, with our program and our municipal proposal, to make this problem visible – to not take their needs into account amounts to discrimination,” concluded Tananta.
Rina Gamarra Tananta is the Project Coordinator at DeportVida.
Importance of collaborative networks and healthy routines for sport projects for people with disabilities
The Sergipe Paralympic Project has the mission of developing sports activities for people with disabilities in the state of Sergipe through multidisciplinary work by students and teachers of physical education, medicine, speech therapy, nutrition, psychology and physiotherapy courses.
Conceived in 2013 by the Department of Physical Education (DEF) of the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS), the Sergipe Paralympic Project (PPdSE) has the mission of developing sports activities for people with disabilities (PwD) in the state of Sergipe through multidisciplinary work by students and teachers of physical education, medicine, speech therapy, nutrition, psychology and physiotherapy courses.
The strategy used to strengthen this group was the creation of a support network, which made it possible to exchange information, experiences, orientations and provide advice and clarifications in a multidisciplinary way. This allowed for all to collectively discuss actions in different areas and to give different perspectives on issues faced.
This support network contributes to the implementation of good practices in combating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main challenge faced by the PPdSE in this period of quarantine and social detachment was to promote the maintenance of the social well-being of the PwD participating in the project.
Thus, the Healthy Routine Challenge Program (PDRS) was created, which structured in weekly activities, aiming to improve the routine of the participating students. For this program, we partnered with the Academic Sports, Paradesport and Trauma-Orthopedic League (LADEPTO), the Laboratory of Studies in Nutrition and Exercise (LENEx) and the Academic League in Health Psychology (LAPS).
The PDRS was carried out from 25 May to 7 November 2020. 11 students were able to participate in the program and interact with a team of seven fellows, who came from various backgrounds like physical education, medicine, speech therapy and physical therapy. The program was conducted with the students using a messaging application, video calls and sending images and audio messages. At the end of 4 weeks, participating students gave feedback regarding the activities, including any doubts, concerns and clarifications they had.
This communication channel made it possible for participating students to share their experiences with the project team, to exchange experiences between the students and the work team, so that we could develop and modify the program to meet their real needs and interests. This feedback loop facilitated the establishment of a more dynamic program, focused on the following areas:
- Physical education: maintaining participants’ healthy lifestyle through physical and strengthening exercises and stretching. This also allowed to keep participants’ anxiety and stress levels under control
- Physiotherapy: monitoring participants to prevent injuries caused by not exercising, and helping athletes return to sport practice
- Speech therapy: engaging in effective communication with other people by different means
- Medicine: guiding participants, through tips and lectures, on personal care, chronic illnesses and accidents, and showing how changes in lifestyle can be an effective means of controlling diseases
- Nutrition: guiding participants in regulating their eating behaviors and food consumption habits
The collaborative nature of this project has enabled the development of good practices for engaging with PwDs and enabled us to achieve better results in not only the sporting aspects of the participants’ lives, but also in the personal aspects, including quality of life. We, thus, emphasize the expansion of such multidisciplinary work, and also the constant monitoring of sport programs and projects for PwDs.
Marcelo de Castro Haiachi is part of the Department of Physica Education at the Federal University of Sergipe. He is also part of the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies, and the Research Centre of Public Policies for Physical Education, Sports, Leisure and Adapted Sports in the state of Sergipe.
João Pedro Bonaparte Tavares is part of the Department of Physica Education at the Federal University of Sergipe and the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies.
Tamires Nunes dos Santos is part of the Department of Physica Education at the Federal University of Sergipe and the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies.
Augusto Cesar Alves dos Santos is part of the Department of Physica Education at the Federal University of Sergipe and the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies.
Ailton Fernando Santana de Oliveira is part of the Department of Physica Education at the Federal University of Sergipe. He is also part of the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies, and the Research Centre of Public Policies for Physical Education, Sports, Leisure and Adapted Sports in the state of Sergipe.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
The Jorge Pina Association
The Jorge Pina Association works in Portugal to make adapted and inclusive sports available for disabled and abled children and youth, focusing on athletics, boxing and goalball.
The Jorge Pina Association (AJP) is a non-profit association founded in 2011 and registered as a Private Social Solidarity Institution (IPSS) since June 2015. We have developed social patronage activities, in the sporting and cultural sphere, promoting the inclusion of disadvantaged children and young people with special educational needs.
About Jorge Pina
Our association is named after Jorge Pina, who was born in Portimão, Portugal on 11 January 1976. He is the son of Cape Verdian parents, from the island of Fogo, who were ex-emigrants in Angola.
After experimenting with various sports, he discovered that he worked better with his hands, and realized that boxing was his passion and salvation from juvenile delinquency. He passed through several clubs in Lisbon, but it was at Sporting Clube de Portugal that he excelled, becoming a national champion in boxing by winning several titles.
His international career led him to prepare for the World Championship, but he was not able to achieve the title due to the loss of his sight. This adversity forced him to reformulate his life and stop being a boxer. However, his inner strength was not shaken and was reinforced by his resilience.
He started in participating in athletics in 2006, a sport he embraced with passion, and he participated in the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, in London in 2012 and in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Despite losing 90% of his vision, he insisted on staying connecting to boxing by teaching this sport, and in 2011 he founded the Jorge Pina Association, where he applies his knowledge and enthusiasm for life to young people who want to excel.
He has been ambassador for the National Plan for Ethics in Sport since 2013, and ambassador for the Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run Portugal, a relay race and a worldwide humanitarian event that seeks to promote international peace, friendship and understanding, in 2014.
“Before I was blind, now I see. God took me out of one way to put me in a better one.” -Jorge Pina
At AJP, we believe that sport gives visibility to the abilities of individuals and not to their difficulties. Sport develops skills for those who regularly practice, and for the disabled, it allows them greater autonomy, through the development of their physical and cognitive skills. This contributes to their social integration and improves their quality of life.
We have four main activities as part of our project:
- The Adapted Athletics School
- Educational Boxing
- Motivational Lecture (about Jorge Pina’s life story and professional career)
With the development of these activities, we support children and young people from different families and socioeconomic contexts, with or without physical and psychological disabilities, providing them with access to sport. The following are our objectives:
- Sensitize participants and promote equal rights and opportunities for all
- Facilitate the integration of young people in society and encourage the spirit of initiative
- Improve the development of children and young people by encouraging independence and autonomy
- Improve participants’ self-esteem and self-image
- Promote international relationships between young people with and without disabilities
- Develop motor and functional skills in disabled children
- Participate in national and international competitions in different modalities, not only for the competition, but for the experience itself
- Participate and organize events that promote sports
- Promote healthy lifestyle habits
In 2015 we created the Adapted Athletics School project, which aims to give free sports training in the field of athletics to any child or young person with special health needs, with a team of specialized coaches and a series of schools and partner entities.
We believe in the potential of sports, in building personal confidence, determination, autonomy and motivation in children and young people. The sense of responsibility, equity, organization and discipline that comes from sports are excellent weapons for the personal and interpersonal development of young people and children.
Given the talents we discovered, we created a competitive team, and have athletes who have won medals, demonstrating the great sporting potential and capacity for resilience.
In 2017, the Jorge Pina Association was distinguished within the framework of the European Sport Week 2017, by the European Union in Marseille with the Local Hero Award 2017. This was the first time the award, which aims to recognize as individual who works consistently for the promotion of sport and inclusion through physical activity in their community, was granted to a Portuguese.
Social inclusion of people with disabilities
Although there are laws that support people with disabilities, the reality is not the same. People with disabilities remain ostracized in society.
However, we have observed that in a sporting environment, there is greater openness to the acceptance of difference. That is why we believe that sport activities can be the vehicle for change, because it enables us all to grow and open our minds in the face of adversities and limitations. Indeed, often what limits us are our thoughts and not any disability.
And this is the work we do at AJP, working in networks with schools, institutions and other entities, fostering the sharing of experiences and raising awareness of differences and treating everyone equally.
Today, there is great admiration for those who overcome obstacles and inspire others to be changemakers. This has permeated to organizations, which have become more open to including adapted sports in sporting events. However, there is still a long way to go in making sports more inclusive to all, and for inclusive sports to gain greater prominence and importance in our community. This can only happen with persistent efforts over time. And by appreciating the work and effort of disabled athletes, and admitting that their value to society is the same as yours or mine.
Lúcia Pedro is part of the Jorge Pina Association.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Access to assistive technology: A human rights approach to disability
Access to assistive technology (AT) has become one of the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities to participate, play and enjoy sports. Yet, this is often problematic.
Sport is undeniably one of the ways of breaking through life challenges, societal oppression and injustice, and reaching full potential for persons with disabilities (PwD). As such, disability sport has become one of the vital platforms for promoting human rights. In the same vein, access to assistive technology (AT) has become one of the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities to participate, play and enjoy sports. Yet, this is often problematic.
Recent research put forth by the World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that over a billion of the global population need some form of assistive technology to participate fully in society. The majority of the world population that require, use and depend on assistive technology like wheelchairs, hearing aids, blind frames and prosthetics are people living with impairments.
People living with impairment use AT to live a productive social life including access to health, education, employment, and participation in sport. AT, whether used as a form of extension of the body, to compensate for an impairment or just an adaptive assistive material, not only enhances and improves the disability experience, but promotes inclusion and accelerates community integration for people living with impairment.
Whilst this is restorative, many people living with impairment still face barriers in accessing adequate, affordable, and productive AT to enable them to enjoy recreational, amateur and high-performance sports. In disability sport, the rapid technological advancements have further complicated the challenges for people living with impairments to partake in sporting activities.
This notwithstanding, the discussion on exclusion, non-participation and low numbers of people living with impairments’ involvement in sports have often stopped at the social and medical model of disability, with less attention to the human rights model of disability. The human rights model was engineered by the United Nations specifically to ease disability-related challenges. It appears to be a move away from the traditional social and medical model of disability, where the social model views disability as stemming from social barriers whilst the medical model argues disability is result of medical condition.
Moving away from these traditional models, as advocates of disability rights, the United Nations pushed for the human rights model out of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In principle, the human rights model views disability as a state that demands social protection, ensuring equal treatment, freedom, rights, respect of all PwD with absolute dignity.
According to the human rights model, disabled people have the fundamental right to a life, social activities, cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport that is unrestricted. It is believed that disabled people, like able-bodied people, should enjoy social experiences, social inclusion, and other services inclusive sports.
For the disabled community, social inclusions and positive social outcomes through unrestrained environment is made fully possible with the right to access and use of assistive technology. To put in perspective, the modern Paralympic Games have created a platform that encourages the need for the existence of assistive technology for disabled people to compete in sports at the elite level.
Most importantly, the influx of complex assistive technology and its design in disability sports appear to be the result of not only disabled people’s open, optimistic attitude towards new and emerging technologies, but to meet the new sport needs for the wide range of impairment. For example, in Tokyo 2020, para-badminton is expected to make its debut which will involve different types of disability and this will require different forms of assistive technology - complex wheelchairs and more.
Despite these initiatives and growth in technology in disability sport, certain impairments feel marginalized, oppressed, stigmatized, and discouraged in taking sports. Disabled athletes with less severe impairment are applauded more than their counterparts with a high degree of impairment.
What is more, AT in low- and middle-income countries is either unavailable or very expensive, subsequently hindering the inclusion of persons living with impairment in mainstream sporting activities at all levels. This also further leads to widening the gender gap in disability sports where opportunities for female disabled athletes become bleaker.
It is therefore unsurprising that in 2018 Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), at the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council Social Forum, recently employed all social institutions around the globe to put in place structures and mechanism to empower and respect the right of persons with disabilities.
This call demands broader social and community structures that must provide accessible information for PwD about new assistive devices, AT manufacturers and providers offer services that will cater to all mobility needs of PwD, including affordable devices as well as nations implementing policies that will enhance the availability of assistive technology to PwD. It is hoped that all these appeals by the IPC will connect to encourage positive practices, avenues and will promote the equal, active and inclusive participation of persons with disabilities in sport.
Francis Asare is a PhD scholar at the University of Waikato researching on the lived body experiences of disabled athlete interactions of advance assistive technology in disability sport.
Surfing4Inclusion: Bringing adapted surfing to Portugal
Surfing4Inclusion is a Portuguese sports and social innovation project, developed by the Ericeira Surf Club. Based on its holistic development model, the project is based on the principles of participatory citizenship and sustainable development. At the centre of this process are people with disabilities.
This project is supported by a network of partners, including the Ericeira Surf Club, the Portuguese Surfing Federation, local surf schools within the Mafra municipality, the University of Beira Interior and social economy organizations working on the rehabilitation of the disabled persons.
The Surfing4Inclusion project aims to contribute to the development of innovation in adaptive surfing. This includes supporting the creation of different, adaptive surfing training methodologies and programs which are adapted to the classification of disability. These methodologies have been created on a scientific basis in order to develop athletic talents and train coaches, teachers and staff belonging to clubs, schools and federations.
We plan to carry out a local pilot with 14 people with different disabilities, between 18 and 45 years (25% women) who, for 24 months, will use the methodology and training program for indoor and outdoor surfing to develop social and sporting skills in adapted surfing.
Surfing thus emerges as a tool that promotes the development of social, personal and professional skills that generate autonomy, well-being and happiness in people with disabilities.
The Surfing4Inclusion project is a systemic approach which integrates sports practice with psychosocial development and education on values and health, which are concepts linked to (a) the promotion of healthy behaviour and habits, (b) balanced diet and nutrition, (c) combating obesity, and (d) the development of innovative training. The training methodology has been adapted to various surfing modalities, considering the need of each handicap and the degree of disability.
This project also aims to challenge the belief that surfing is an expensive and elitist sport which needs large investments and is generally inaccessible. This sport is very popular on the Portuguese Atlantic coast, a result of the economic geography of the region. However, we intend to socialize this sporting practice into the interior of the country, and bring those people who have never seen to sea to come out and surf.
Based on this premise, the Ericeira Surf Club intends, in 2021-22, through the establishment of a set of protocols, built in collaboration with various rehabilitation institutions and municipalities, to provide 500 people with disabilities from different contexts with the possibility of experiencing the sport of surfing in the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve. Simultaneously, we intend to develop a recruitment process to build a pool of future adapted surfing athletes.
Based on these premises, Ericeira Surf Clube intends, in 2021-22, through the establishment of a set of protocols with various rehabilitation institutions and municipalities to provide 500 people with disabilities from different contexts of disadvantage, the possibility of experiencing the practice of Surfing in the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve and, simultaneously, to develop a recruitment process that would originate a pool of future adapted surfing athletes.
Some of the actions that we have achieved and would like to work towards include:
- The development of technical programs and surfing training methodologies, adapted with a scientific basis to adjust to different disabilities
- The creation of an adapted surf centre within the Ericeira Surf Club, including a gym and training centre, certified by the Surf Federation, DGERT and IPDJ
- The development of a pilot program with 14 users with multiple disabilities, who will be part of a study and scientific analysis to understand what works in an adapted surfing program. The program includes regular training sessions, indoors and outdoors, and the study will research their physical and sporting abilities as well as changes in their behaviour and sociability
- The promotion of the social inclusion of people with disabilities through surfing, by giving 500 people with disabilities to try one of three surfing practices – surf, bodyboard and SUP. This will allow us to identify talent, with the possibility of training them to surf competitively
- The promotion of employability by creating 10 jobs for people with disabilities in the local surf economy, namely in the ecosystem of the Ericeira World Surf Reserve
- Technical training of sports agents in adapting surfing, including surf clubs, schools, coaches, athletes, judges, teachers and rehabilitators, and training of tour operators to know how to welcome and create an inclusive environment for tourists wanting to engage in adapted surfing
- The construction of a volunteer scholarship to support local surf schools to develop social responsibility projects
- The dissemination of information about these activities at a local, national and international level through events and social networks
- Transformation of the Ericeira World Surfing Reserve into an accessible and disability-friendly space
- The promotion and development of a European and world surfing network for adapted surfing, which has a special focus on sports, education and social inclusion
Miguel Toscano is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Ericeira Surf Club.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
National para sport program: PROBRASIL
A national para sport program in Brazil – PROBRASIL – promotes sport and leisure activities for people with disabilities in Brazil. This is a collaborative network, aimed at building a healthier lifestyle for people with disabilities.
Disability has always been a difficult topic to bring up in society. Accepting the different and working with diversity is a deeper issue – it is not related to the person with some type of disability (sensory, cognitive, physical, functional and syndromes), but in the way normality is conceived, based on aesthetic and productive standards.
Thus, we need to reinforce that there are no disabled people, but people with specific characteristics. We need to cultivate a more humane society based on welcoming and respecting the different and the difference, which is still under construction.
It is estimated that 7% of the Brazilian population has some kind of disability (15 million people). Developing public policies that encourage the development of people with disabilities is essential for the integration of this portion of the population in mainstream society.
Separated, neither the state, nor the private sector, nor civil society have the capacity to solve the problems posed to Brazilian society. It is, therefore, necessary to imagine a set of institutional arrangements that combine the potential and efforts of different public and private actors around common objectives.
The National Secretariat for Parasport (NSP) has the mission of preparing proposals to compose the National Sport Plan, together with the Special Sport Secretariat, as well as proposing instruments for the articulation of policies, programs and parasports projects with the educational, leisure, social inclusion and high-performance policies and programs of the Federative Republic of Brazil.
It is necessary to give more opportunity for people with disabilities to occupy positions of representation and that can influence the transformation of society. NSP aims to increase the access of people with disabilities to sports in all its manifestations: from initiation to high performance; in all age groups and for the various disabilities that are currently not included in any federal government program.
Thus, the generation of public value is directly associated with an impact on society, in which programs and projects, by promoting sports practice for people with disabilities, also promote inclusion, education and socialization. Individuals with disabilities tend to remain sedentary throughout their lives, and they end up developing morbidities such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension.
In this sense, promoting sports activities for this population provides not only a more participative citizen in society, it provides them with physical, psychological and social well-being, while also allowing for the rehabilitation and inclusion of these individuals in society.
The national para sport program – PROBRASIL – promotes sport and leisure activities for people with disabilities in Brazil. This is a collaborative network, aimed at building a healthier lifestyle for people with disabilities. The program presents a model for the development of parasports spread across the five regions of Brazil.
PROBRASIL presents a format that includes children and youth in activities during the school shift (i.e., if a student studies in the morning, they participate in the activities in the afternoon; if the student studies in the afternoon, they participate in the activities in the morning).
The activities take place two to three times a week. The structuring axis of the program is centered on the qualification of human resources in sports and pedagogical activities, without distinction of sex, age and type of disability. The practice of sports and leisure activities through individual, collective and motor skills allow the improvement of students’ health.
By building this collaborative guidance network, it will be possible to map the disability, know the reality in peripheral areas, qualify human resources for care, establish partnerships with Universities Institutions (UI), and implement, monitor and improve the development of students and families involved with the program.
As areas of attention, we point out the partnership with the UI’s mainly in relation to the promotion of research activities, as a way to structure data that can be compiled for the production of guidance booklets and material for the implementation of more assertive public policies. As priority actions, PROBRASIL has three pillars:
- Qualification: development centers and training of human resources
- Orientation: potentialities associated with motor skills and the experience of physical, sports and leisure activities
- Monitoring: monitoring the development of students and building strategies appropriate to the real needs of students
In this moment of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to encourage the construction of collaborative networks that can exchange experiences. It is possible to form partnerships so that, together, we can combat the social invisibility of people with disabilities.
We hope that our initiative will serve as an incentive for more people to really have something to celebrate on this International Day of People with Disabilities.
Erinaldo Chagas is part of the National Secretariat of Parasport, Ministry of Citizenship, Brazil.
Marcelo de Castro Haiachi is part of the Univeristy of Sergipe’s Physical Education Department, and on the Research Group on Olympic and Paralympic Studies.
Ailton Fernando Santana de Oliveira is part of the University of Sergipe’s Physical Education Department and the Research Centre on Public Policies on Physical Education, Leisure and Adapted Sports.
Claudio Diehl Nogueira is part of Castelo Branco University’s Physical Education Department and is also a Brazilian Paralympic Academy member.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Developing sport participation for persons with a disability
In France and Europe in general, the level of participation in sport among people with a disability remains well below that of the rest of the population. Our think tank looks into the question of sport’s accessibility for people with a disability. Below are a number of ideas to help in developing this.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 15% of the world’s population is living with some form of disability, and this proportion will only increase as the population ages. Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognises their right to enjoy access to cultural activities and to participate in recreational, leisure and sporting activities. Personal fulfilment, health and well-being and the social bond are at the heart of these ideas.
In spite of this, many people with disabilities still do not have access to physical activities and sport, which are a vital link in social life and in a community. It is not just that facilities are often unsuitable, but public transport and town planning too are rarely designed with these persons in mind. Additionally, what is available from federations, clubs, and the sport marketing sector is not always in line with needs and expectations, particularly when it comes to non-competitive sport.
We therefore need to examine the question of accessibility in our societies, and the public’s level of knowledge and awareness, without forgetting that there is a separation between the management of disability and cultural, sporting, social and educational activities which still leads to compartmentalisation in public policies (and policies in associations).
Examining civil society and stakeholders in sport
The parasport federations hold a key position, with their several decades of experience and expertise in the conditions necessary for safe, adapted practice, and also because there are a certain number of specific disciplines (power wheelchair, goalball, etc). The benefits of practice among peers should not be underestimated either. The challenge is rather to work on the many offers available and their complementarity, so that every person can take part in their chosen sport in the best possible conditions.
Mixed ability sport should also be developed, inspired by schemes set up in schools. Some schemes offer sporting activities in teams made up of disabled and non-disabled young people. However, in ordinary settings, the objectives of inclusion have not been attained. Too many children are still excluded from taking part.
Putting in place bridges between the field of sport and the medical-social sector is another possible vector for adapted sporting activity within establishments. Working for the recognition of sport in the institutional projects in establishments is vital, as are the training and professionalisation of clubs and host structures.
It is important, therefore, to involve families and aids as much as possible in discovering and following sporting activities, for people of every age with a disability, and to raise awareness of the benefits of sport, for personal health and well-being.
At whatever level, sport can become an outstanding force for resilience and fulfilling potential. The inclusion aspect is recognised as being of benefit to all individuals. Kindness, tolerance, respect and solidarity with the values of sport: these can, and must, be made real in projects for shared physical activities and sport.
Sylvain Landa is the editorial director of the think tank Sport and Citizenship.