Including persons with disability in sport
Including persons with disabilities through table tennis
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation is building inclusive table tennis programs to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to participate in the sport.
For us at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation, table tennis, it is not just about including persons with disabilities in the sport, but using the sport to break down both physical and mental barriers. We want to ensure persons with and without disabilities alike are part of the solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems and achieving the SDGs. Through our programs, we hope to put abilities forward, offer a fun safe space to challenge bias and open minds to inclusive design.
At the ITTF, we have a long history of leadership that is committed to inclusion, including the governance of para table tennis within the federation since July 2007. Since then, ITTF is the recognised governing body for para table tennis and is responsible for all rules and regulations pertaining to para table tennis, including classifications. Beyond performance however, the sport has shown very successful development initiatives, such as the Smash Down Barriers program in Oceania.
Furthermore, through the ITTF Foundation, we work with people whose quality of life would improve by their participation in table tennis. All the projects of the ITTF Foundation, those we implement and those we support through the Dream Building Fund, commit to be inclusive, and each project targets a specific SDG.
Between 2015-2019, the ITTF Foundation supported one of its biggest projects aimed at the inclusion of persons with disabilities, TT4nepal. The project successfully expanded para table tennis across Nepal and raised awareness and built social inclusion locally. The project held the weekly training of over 200 persons with disabilities and is now organizing tournaments through local government grants.
In 2019 we received support from the AGITOS Foundation to develop our refugee program, specifically targeting persons with disabilities in the Azraq and Zaatari camps in Jordan. One of our biggest challenges in the camps remains access to the centres – buses have to be organised, which means players are dependent on transport to attend sessions.
We also support a project in Hoima, Uganda, which offers education and table tennis as an incentive to children with and without disabilities. The project in Alkmaar, Netherlands, is looking to include persons with disabilities in their club decision making level. Further, in 2021, we will support the Smash Down Barriers program in Tonga.
Accessibility is not optional – it is about inclusion, diversity, and human rights, but also design. In terms of providing access, we know we could do more, and we are taking steps forward in the right direction.
We are learning but we know we could improve in making our programs more inclusive form the start, starting with the design phase. Once we overcome the issues of transport, accessibility and cultural perceptions, we have seen how participants benefit from sport, and the difference sport makes in a participant’s life. Further, the community also changes its perceptions, as it sees them grow their skills.
We hope that we will be able to keep raising awareness, shinning the light on examples of good practice, and support project leaders who want to make a difference in this field. We hope to receive more projects offering to improve quality of life of persons with disabilities and bring solutions to accessibility for the next Dream Building Fund call.
Karine Teow is a Field Programmes Manager at ITTF Foundation. She oversees the Dream Building and Legacy programs.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Bina Foundation: A model of disability sport development in Nigeria
Since 2017, the Bina Foundation has successfully changed the narratives around disability sports in Nigeria. It has strategically repositioned disability sports development.
Over the years, sport for development programs in Nigeria were modelled to favour able-bodied athletes, many of whom have received different medals both in the national and international sporting events. But people with disabilities were not given the same opportunities in sports, and disability sports was left far behind.
A report from the European Journal of Special Education Research Volume 2, Issue 5 (2017) pointed to the high level of neglect of disability sports in universities in Nigeria. It highlighted the failure of well-structured organizations, either public or private, to come up with a strategic inclusive plan for disability sports development in Nigeria.
Thus, the Bina Foundation for people with special needs was established, to bridge this gap in Nigeria. Since 2017, the foundation has successfully changed the narratives around disability sports in the country. It has strategically repositioned disability sports development.
Projects: Blind football, goal ball and para-powerlifting
Prior to the establishment of Bina Foundation, there was no organization that promoted blind football and goal ball in the country. The idea for their establishment was an idea by the President-Founder of Bina Foundation, Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu. To ensure the viability of these programs, baseline studies were carried out and collated.
The Bina Foundation Blind Football Project was inaugurated on 12 April 2017 at the field in Union Secondary School in Awkunanaw, Enugu state, Nigeria. The men’s blind football team was first established – the success of their team paved the way for the establishment of other disability sports by the foundation the same year. Following the President’s quest for gender inclusivity, Bina Foundation’s women’s blind football team was introduced on 17 June 2017, also in Enugu.
The foundation also purchased plots of land in Enugu the same year to build the Blind Football Academy, which was inaugurated on 9 June. The academy hosted the inaugural summer Blind Football Camp and Training for male and female blind football players from across the federation, held from 9 June to 17 September.
In 2018, the foundation facilitated the formation of five men’s and two women’s blind football teams, to accommodate the growing number of participants in the 2018 summer Blind Football Camp.
In 2019, the foundation partnered with the Para-Athletics Federation in Nigeria to organize the first national blind football trials in Enugu, held in January. We also co-sponsored the Nigeria women’s blind football players who participated in the 2019 International Blind Sport Association (IBSA) Blind Football Women’s Camp and Games in Saitama City, Japan.
The same year, we hosted the African Blind Football Camp and Games for women, men and children, in which four countries, including Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, participated. We also hosted the 2019 IBSA Blind Football African Championship, held between 22 November and 1 December 2019.
In order to establish blind football, goal ball and para-powerlifting projects in Nigeria, we faced many challenges, the first of which was the task of assembling young visually impaired men and women from various hard-to-reach communities and special schools across the country. Another challenge was acquiring the resources needed to build the program, including catering to the athletes’ food, transportation and medical needs.
We also needed to acquire tools and equipment to successfully set up the project, and this was a challenge because equipment for para sports like blind football are not easily available in the country. The management team also had to locate grounds for training and accommodating the players. Further, the administrative bottlenecks in various ministries and agencies responsible for sports development made the registration of our project an uphill battle.
Bina Foundation model of disability sports development
The foundation has been successful because it adopted a bottom-up approach to the process. The approach was modelled to suit our unique circumstances. This included finding local producers of blind football equipment, since imported ones were costly, the training of players and coaches, and training or guards and medical personnel.
The foundation was committed to delivering on our mission, vision and objectives. We also held many negotiations and collaborations with national and international organizations and agencies, which contributed to the impacts of the foundation. This included successfully including blind football as a para-sport in Nigeria, enlisting Bina Foundation as the Nigeria representative to the IBSA, establishing a national men’s blind football team (Star Eagles of Nigeria) and a national women’s blind football team (Star Falcons of Nigeria).
More effort is needed in order to actualize UN-CRPD and the UN SDG 3 by 2030 across all boards of disability sport development. Accessibility and inclusion in sports development are yet to reach a greater percentage of persons with disabilities, especially in developing countries. It is, therefore, very crucial for sports development organizations to look inward and engage disabled people in decision making, in line with the universal principle of “nothing about us, without us”.
Further, many of the disability sports are not getting desired media publicity and it is important to also push for adequate media coverage and support for speedy promotion and development of such disability sports locally and globally.
As long as there is commitment and passion exhibited by sports development enthusiasts and other relevant bodies, a great future lies ahead for disability sports development. In the future, we hope more persons with disabilities will come into the limelight and make promising careers in disability sports.
Find out more about Bina Foundation by visiting their website.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team].
Establishing a women’s wheelchair basketball team in Siem Reap
A collaborative effort between different institutions and organizations in Cambodia saw the successful establishment of a women’s wheelchair basketball team in Siem Reap.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided physical rehabilitation services for the past 28 years, caring for the needs of persons with disabilities whose lives have been blighted by the millions of landmines leftover after Cambodia’s Civil War. ICRC supports two Physical Rehabilitation Centres in Battambang and Kampong Speu, which cover seven provinces in Cambodia.
In 2012, the ICRC established its Social Inclusion Program which provides opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in four areas:
- Education opportunities for children and young adults with disabilities
- Employment and small business opportunities
- Vocational training
- Sports and cultural participation
A major impact of this social inclusion is through sport. Through one initiative this year, ICRC and wheelchair basketball teams in Kampong Speu (KOM) and Battambang (BAA) made an effort to mobilize more people with disabilities to play sport.
ICRC met with the German Embassy in Cambodia in July 2020, who were interested in supporting disability sports. They were willing to support starting a new wheelchair basketball team with sports equipment and clothing. The German Embassy of Cambodia were willing to support funding of materials up to USD 5,000.
ICRC shared the good news with Soulcial Trust, an NGO supporting the men’s team in Siem Reap; happily, Soulcial Trust was interested in creating the new female wheelchair basketball team in Siem Reap. Soulcial Trust and the team leader of male team reached out to women with disabilities in Siem Reap to join the new wheelchair basketball team. Seven women initially came forward to join.
Sports equipment and sport wheelchairs which specially produced by the Jesuit Society of Cambodia (JSC) and handed over to the Siem Reap team. All was set for the first training session! With the women gathered at the basketball court, the Siem Reap men’s team and two coaches from the Battambang Team joined. International Canadian coach Mr. Joe Higgins and Mr. Sokchea Mao of the National Paralympic Committee of Cambodia (NPCC) also joined to lend a hand to give the team a good start.
These players are set to help wheelchair basketball grow bigger and to engage more people with disabilities in Cambodia, exposing their abilities rather than their than disability. Sport is also essential in promoting self-esteem, social connection and fun. It took many hands – the German Embassy of Cambodia, ICRC, Soulcial Trust, JSC, the Siem Reap men’s team, Joe in Canada, NPCC, and the coaches from BAA to make it happen and our efforts were hugely rewarded when we saw them passing and flying round the court that first day in Siem Reap. Who knows, some of these players may even go on to represent their country in the future.
Sreyleak Nob has been working with the International Commitee of the Red Cross’s Social Inclusion Programme, which is part of ICRC’s Physical Rehabilitation Programme, in Cambodia. Much of her time has been dedicated to supporting the development of wheelchair basketball.
Using sport for social impact: Perspectives from Cambodia
The Indochina Starfish Foundation’s Sport for All Abilities project is the only initiative of its kinds that supports a wide range of Cambodians with disabilities and impairments to play sports.
“Playing football with my friends and making new ones. These are my best moments now,” says 36-year-old Heng Kunthea. Kunthea had been an avid football player throughout his life until he lost his eyesight in a traffic accident 5 years ago. For some time, he was unable to return to the sport he loved, until he joined Indochina Starfish Foundation’s (ISF) Sports for All Abilities project, the only initiative of its kind supporting a wide range of Cambodians with disabilities and impairments to play sports. “It took me many years to fully recover, and football has helped me in the healing process, physically and mentally.”
Kunthea is just one example we have seen of a person living with a disability being transformed through our award-winning Sport for All Abilities project. We’ve seen children with physical disabilities radically improve their fitness and health, and watched the confidence of players living with HIV skyrocket as they defy stigma to play alongside other youths.
Since its inception in 2011, our coaches have become much better at their jobs by learning how to adapt to the diverse needs of different players. Many of them consider their work with players with disabilities to be the most rewarding and fun work that they do.
Clearly, there are challenges that always need to be overcome, which is why we tap into their expertise of an array of partners who specialize in supporting persons with disabilities. The biggest challenge is that because sports for disabled people is such a new concept in Cambodia, there are no formal training courses or qualifications within the country, and the coaches have to be creative in the way that they learn. “I tell them to work from the heart,” says Samedy Yin, who leads ISF’s football programme.
Another, more difficult, cultural challenge is that some families of disabled players don’t want their children to play football. They are often afraid that physical exertion will make their condition worse. Even an adult like Kunthea faced opposition from his family before they saw sport’s importance to him and changed their minds. “To overcome these barriers, we encourage families to join football events to see how strong and happy their children are on the field,” Samedy expands. “Social workers also talk to the parents about the benefits of sport for their children’s health and career.”
These benefits are often much greater and deeper than even we expect. While the health benefits of sport are obvious and expected, the impact on self-esteem and sense of inclusion can be more profound. Phanat is an 18-year-old player with an intellectual disability, who struggles with communication. He says, “When I play football, I feel that I am not different from other young people at my age, and that we’re all working to develop ourselves.”
At ISF, we recognise that we are just one NGO and that we need to work with the government and many other organisations in order to change the lives of persons with disabilities in Cambodia. This is why we are actively encouraging NGOs which support children with disabilities to include sports activities in their own plans or enhance and amplify them if they already do.
“I have two big dreams for the future,” says Samedy. “The first is that I want to see a lot more sporting events created which cater for players with disabilities. I want them to have the same chance to compete as anyone, and to show the world their talents. That’s the kind of thing that creates social change. Next, I want to see some of these players compete in international tournaments. I want to show the world what we have started to do in Cambodia, and what talents these amazing young people have.”
Jamie Gill is a multi-award-winning consultant with 20+ years’ experience in using creativity to make brands and messages come alive and invade people's brains. After working in London for 16 years, he's now based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“The blind can also play football”: Factors influencing blind football participation among Zimbabwean high-school students with visual impairments
Keon Richardson writes in the Sport and Olympic-Paralympic Studies Journal (SOPSJ).
Despite the exponential growth of blind football worldwide, research examining factors impacting participation in the Paralympic sport has been understudied. This exploratory study adopts the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) model to identify the contextual factors which impact a group of Zimbabwean high-school students with visual impairments to participate in blind football. Semi-structured interviews were completed with twelve high-school students from eight out of ten provinces in Zimbabwe. Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis to categorise the barriers and facilitators to participate in blind football. The analysis revealed the following five themes: 1) access; 2) socio-cultural context; 3) physical health and wellbeing/injury; 4) social relationships; and 5) intrapersonal and beliefs/attitudes. Students experienced participation in blind football as physically beneficial and personally transformative in (re-)constructing their identity. Barriers included fear of injury, lack of specialized blind football pitches, and awareness of blind football. To derive the benefits of blind football, students overcame the aforementioned barriers, many of which were reduced through ongoing participation and positive experiences. As a Paralympic sport amassing popularity amongst visually impaired children and adults, blind football appears to be an effective game to improve the physical health and social wellbeing of this population.
Keon Richardson is in the Master’s Programs in Sport and Olympic Studies and Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences at Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Japan.
Harnessing the power of sport: Recommendations for the inclusion of individuals with a disability
As an individual with a disability who has been involved in sport for the majority of my life, I recognize how valuable sport has been in shaping who I am today. I believe that being involved in sport has the power to impact all areas of life, including physical, emotional, social and psychological.
Every individual with a disability should be given the opportunity to experience the power that sport can have in their lives. This belief is what led me to focus my doctorate research on the development pathway of para-athletes (i.e. athletes with a disability). In my research, I seek to listen to para-athletes and to learn from them and their families about how they got involved and continue to be involved in sport. From this research, there are three recommendations that I would like to offer regarding getting and keeping individuals with a disability involved in sport.
Spread word far and wide
My first recommendation is that if an organization is looking to involve individuals with a disability in their programming, then all stakeholders, including the administrators, volunteers, coaches, athletes, and parents need to be aware of this intention and the programming opportunities that are being offered.
Most individuals with a disability and their families are not actively searching for sporting opportunities, as they are more focused on their daily needs and activities. It’s not that they are not interested in sport, it is that they have other needs that require their attention. However, if a person of significance in their lives (a friend, family member, medical personnel, etc.) brings a sporting opportunity to their attention that is applicable to them, they are likely to at least check it out.
Therefore, the more people who know about an organization’s intent and programming for the inclusion of individuals with a disability, the more likely it is that the news of an organization’s inclusion intention can reach those who could take advantage of those opportunities and participate.
Individualize programs to specific needs
My second recommendation is that programs that are focused on teaching individuals with a disability the basic skills required for a sport need to have low athlete to coach or instructor ratios. Low ratios allow para-athletes to receive instruction that is tailored to their individual needs.
It is difficult to individualize the skill development process in a large group setting with high athlete to coach/instructor ratios. In high ratio environments, para-athletes tend to get lost in the crowd and do not receive sufficient instruction for their skill development needs.
Another thing to consider in a program aimed at skill acquisition is that while having coaches or instructors with experience working with para-athletes is beneficial, it is not required. It is more important that coaches are open to learning, both from other coaches who have experience working with para-athletes and by listening to the para-athletes themselves regarding their needs. They can work with the para-athlete to figure out ways to best support them as they work towards their goals.
Encourage networking between para-athletes
My third recommendation is that whenever possible, para-athletes need to be provided with opportunities to connect with other para-athletes. In the same way that most people enjoy interacting with people who have similar backgrounds and experiences, para-athletes tend to remain more engaged in sport when they feel connected to others like them.
This does not mean that there need to be other para-athletes within their daily training environment (although this would be optimal). It could be that they connect with others at competitions, training camps or other facilitated means of interaction.
While there are many other recommendations that could be made on the topic of including individuals with a disability in sport, stakeholder awareness of intentions/programming, low athlete to coach ratio and supporting connections with other para-athletes are the three that can greatly impact getting individuals with a disability engaged and remaining engaged in sport. Through following these recommendations, it is my hope that more organizations will be open to including para-athletes into their programming and that more individuals with a disability will have the opportunity to engage in the life altering experience that is sport.
Darda Sales is a four-time Paralympian, coach, speaker and PhD candidate in Leadership and Sport Management at Western University in London, ON, Canada. Her research focuses on the athletic development experience of para-athletes.
Dance, disability and quality of life
At the Step Change Studios, Rashmi Becker provides dance classes at a community level for all ages and abilities.
In the UK, 1 in 5 people have a disability; yet disabled adults are twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be physically inactive. Activity levels for disabled and non-disabled children are similar when they first start school but the gap widens more significantly by the time they are 16 (52% compared with 72%). Disabled children are twice as likely to be lonely compared to their non-disabled peers – and these figures do not account for the pandemic.
The importance of physical literacy is widely recognised. Nine in ten parents of disabled children say their child’s physical activity is important to them. Yet, less than half of parents with disabled children feel they have enough support to help their child to be active. Worrying about getting hurt, how they look and not knowing what to do stops many disabled children being active.
For as long as I can remember I have felt strongly about the benefits of physical activity for physical and mental health. Growing up, I participated in different sport, but have always been passionate about dance. I have an older disabled brother who has severe autism and a visual impairment. He is non-verbal, and, growing up, I remember how he loved music and movement. As a child, this helped him manage his anxiety and express his personality, and was a way for us to play, communicate and connect.
As an adult, I continued to dance, but also developed a career working for the UK government, and the health and social care sector. During this time, I became acutely aware of the sedentary lifestyles of many disabled people in care settings or excluded from mainstream participation in schools.
I wanted to help address social inequalities and barriers to participation, and support disabled people to be active through dance, so I established Step Change Studios. We provide dance at a community level for all ages and abilities (mental, physical, and sensory). A core part of our work is bringing dance to where people are - providing dance in a wide range of settings including education, healthcare social care, and in the community – and now, in people’s homes via technology.
Dance is particularly accessible as it transcends language, promotes self-expression and brings people together. The benefits that our dance participants report include improved confidence, coordination, concentration, creativity, and communication, as well as a reduced sense of isolation and increased independence. Many people we work with have communication difficulties, but the sensory experience of dance – the physical movement, the rhythm and pulses of the music, the connection with others, and the use of sensory props – enables people to communicate through dance. This then translates into their wider world building a stronger sense of self.
The basis for everything we do is fun. We want dancing to make people happy, as this is the gateway to other critical factors, such as building trust. The first hurdle with much of our work is overcoming people’s fears about taking part. For example, some people have never travelled on their own, so we may use community volunteers to support people from train stations to the dance venue. Getting people to take that first step is critical: their very first contact with you and how you engage and communicate with them can make a difference between them moving forward or turning away.
People’s apprehensions can present in different ways. Some people may demonstrate frustration with themselves or other people. Key to addressing this is to look behind the behaviour and understand what is driving this. We find that continuously emphasising dancing for pleasure and promoting enjoyment is important in defusing people’s anxieties. Over time, people to start to connect, make friends and become more confident and independent.
While I stress the priority of fun in our work, it is important to balance this with challenge. We introduce different goals for our participants, such as working towards a dance exam, competition or public performance. Being ambitious for people creates a positive culture that encourages hope and self-belief.
The impact of the pandemic
The global pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities. Disabled people have been disproportionately affected. The impact on mental health resulting from isolation and the ongoing uncertainty have been widely reported.
Government restrictions have often been slow to recognise disabled people’s needs. The third sector has had to step in to adapt government requirements and to ensure exceptions are made for people that may struggle to socially distance and have different communication needs; for example, we know masks can pose an issue for people who might lip read.
The pandemic has highlighted that it has never been more important to look after our physical and mental health. When COVID-19 began to impact the UK and all real-life dance had to stop, our dance participants asked for virtual sessions. Teaching and communicating through the medium of a screen has required a complete re-think in how we teach: for example for people with sight loss, we have needed to focus much more on clarity of voice and visual language, but also other cues such as clapping the timing of the movements in place of being able to physically support people to learn. We have also had to check the accessibility of different systems, such as whether screen readers work with virtual platforms, and providing alternate formats for registering.
One thing I quickly realised with our online delivery is that alongside dancing, people value a regular opportunity to come together in challenging times. One participant said the online dance programme has ‘kept me sane during lockdown’. We cannot underestimate the need to look after our mental health during the pandemic and just dancing and moving to music together (even virtually) - can lift our spirits alongside our heart rate.
As well as providing inclusive dance, I am a committed disability advocate. Making sure the voices and experiences of disabled people are heard and acted on remains critical. Early in the pandemic, when it was clear that many disabled people were not receiving the protection and support they needed, I engaged media to report on the issues. Advocacy is vital in ensuring disabled people are not side-lined by decision-makers that impact their lives. The third sector is playing a critical role in raising awareness of the challenges disabled people are facing and influencing policy and practice.
Diversity and inclusion are not just about grassroots participation. Disabled people must have access to opportunities at every level. In the UK just 3% of board members in sport representative bodies are disabled. We need genuine commitment to change at the top if we are to achieve real integration and recognition for all people and all abilities.
Dr. Rashmi Becker is the Founder of inclusive dance company Step Change Studios. She is also a Board Member of Sport England. She holds a Doctorate in Psychiatry from the University of Cambridge where her research focused on intellectual disability.
Including persons with disabilities in sport: An Australian volunteer’s experience in Vanuatu
Jessica Richardson traces the significant strides that disability athletes in Vanuatu have been able to make in just a short period of time.
2018 marked a turning point in sports history in Vanuatu, with Friana Kwevira taking the country’s first Commonwealth Games medal with a Bronze in the Women’s F46 Javelin.
However, it also marked a turning point in the inclusion of people with disability in the wider community. What we saw was the embodiment of success in inclusive sport for development in Vanuatu. It wasn’t a just a throw of 24.54m that turned the tides for change, but a culmination of activities behind the scenes and on the field.
Following a talent identification program in Santo in 2017, Friana joined the Para Athletics program including attending the GAPS Camp with Griffith University, through the support of the Agitos Foundation.
Friana then took part in the first integrated Pacific Mini Games event. This presented an inclusion opportunity and promoted the inclusion of people with disability in the broader community in Vanuatu.
Through my role as Equity and Inclusion Officer with the Vanuatu Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (VASANOC), I developed an Inclusive Assessment Tool, in consultation with the Vanuatu Civil Society Disability Network (VCSDN). Together with VCSDN, we utilised the tool to provide recommendations to the Van2017 Organising Committee on ways in which they could increase facility accessibility and provision of sports opportunities for people with disability.
I went on to manage the Vanuatu para-athletics team for the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee at the 2017 Pacific Mini Games. A team of 11 athletes secured a silver and a bronze – a first for para-athletics in Vanuatu. The Olympic Committee ensured the para -athletes led the team out in the opening ceremony to emphasise how Vanuatu should be proud of their para athletes and that Team Vanuatu was committed to inclusion.
Focus then returned to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games has been an integrated sporting event since 2002. However, the 2018 Games would be the first time Vanuatu would send para athletes as part of Team Vanuatu. Friana, joined by two fellow female para athletes, Marceline Moli and Dephnny Naliupis, would be the first para athletes to compete for Team Vanuatu at the Games.
I remember sitting in the crowd of 25,000 spectators, watching Friana walk out into Carrara Stadium to represent Vanuatu. We saw Friana make history that day, winning the first Commonwealth Games medal in any sports discipline ever for Vanuatu. It was a first for people living with a disability, a first for women and a first for mothers—all the things Friana, a 19-year-old girl born with only one arm, proudly is. This provided a great opportunity to celebrate both women and people with disability in sport. Media coverage of our para athletes increased, and the community celebrated as our athletes achieved success.
Sport has proven that it can be a catalyst for change in many communities, in not only increasing the health and education of a community but in improving inclusivity and the well-being of many individuals. Sport encourages us to see everyone on an equal playing field.
The work of the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee highlights this with noticeable change in attitudes in the wider community occurring following our para athletes’ success. We continued to build on this momentum to engage more inclusive sports.
I facilitated a Para Sports Day in partnership with the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability, with a theme to “Ditch the Dis.” This was a clear message that it was time for Vanuatu to recognize the potential of people with disability, not only in sport, but the community as a whole. One parent exclaimed: “My son had so much fun at the Para Sports Day yesterday, he did not stop talking about it all night and this made me so happy I was crying.”
Through this day we were able to identify a potential para athlete who went on to compete in Va’a, (outrigger canoe) at the World Canoe Sprint Championships in Hungary.
Our programs continue to expand. In 2019 I managed a team of para-athletics athletes at the Pacific Games in Samoa. The Vanuatu Olympic Committee selected our para athlete Ken Kahu as Flag Bearer for the Team Vanuatu at the Opening Ceremony. It was the first time a para athlete from any Pacific Country had led their national team.
Ken Kahu then attended the World Para Athletics Championships, where he qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, again making history for Vanuatu, being the first para athlete to qualify on merit for the Games.
The Vanuatu Paralympic Committee has focused on forming strong partnerships with government, national sports federations, local business houses and disability organisations. This has allowed our programs to grow sustainably with local ownership.
There were, of course, a number of challenges that we faced and continue to face. Primarily, funding and classification remain barriers to increased participation. The Vanuatu Paralympic Committee relies on donor funding to provide inclusive sports programs throughout the country and to support people with disability with safe bus transport to training, uniforms, competition fees and equipment costs. With no core funding stream, this creates difficulty in planning long term budgets.
Even with these challenges, we have been able to set up one of the most successful para athletics programs in the Pacific. Sport has provided much needed visibility to the stories of people with disability in the country, and has highlighted their strengths and ability to contribute positively to their community. It has also provided personal achievement and a sense of worth and focus to those who take part in para sports programs, improving their confidence and health outcomes. The VPC has also focused very successfully on ensuring our para athletes find employment opportunities in local government and business houses.
“Sport has changed me. It helps me to know that even with a disability, I still can take part in sport and in my community. Sport helps me to stand up for myself. To feel confident to face whatever challenge I come across. So don’t look at your disability. Look at your ability, at what you can do.” – Elie Enock, Vanuatu Para Athlete and multi-medallist.
Jessica Richardson was an Australian Volunteer in Vanuatu from 2017-2020.
Removing barriers and bringing back the enjoyment factor in disability sport
A research study across three universities in UK found that one of the major barriers to sport and physical activity for persons with disability is the lack of the enjoyment factor, which can cause persons with disabilities to fixate on the difficulties of engaging, such as the cost and hassle of getting there.
Despite an increase in sport for development programs for persons with disabilities, participation rates remain low in Western nations. Research was conducted with three UK-based disability support organizations and their members to analyze the barriers to sport and physical activity for persons with disabilities. The findings highlighted that participation was hampered by a number of internal and external barriers, but many of these barriers acted as a pretext for a lack of enjoyment.
Research has repeatedly shown a number of physical, mental, and social wellbeing benefits of sport and physical activity for persons with disabilities, including maintaining a healthy weight, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, increased muscle-mass and bone density, reduced risk of chronic diseases, increased independence, and the creation and development of friendships and communities.
Recognizing this, state agencies in many Western nations have placed emphasis on the improved participation of persons with disabilities in sport and physical activity. In the UK, for example, national government heavily invested public monies into a plethora of initiatives designed to promote an active lifestyle for this population group.
Despite being more than halfway through the implementation period of this UK-wide strategy, only 47% of persons with disabilities, and 39% of persons with three or more impairments, are classed as being active, compared to 67% of persons with no disability. Further, 4-in-5 (81%) persons with disabilities say they would like to be more active, and only 2-in-5 (40%) feel they are given the opportunity to be as active as they would like to be.
This situation is representative of many Western nations, with Australia reporting a 14.8% gap in sport and physical activity participation between persons with and without a disability and a difference of 27% in the Netherlands. It is therefore important to understand what prevents or stimulates persons with disabilities to participate in sport and physical activity.
In partnership with a UK-based local government and Active Partnership, semi-structured interviews with eight facilitators and focus groups with 24 persons with disabilities across three disability support organizations were conducted. The aim was to a) provide rich and informative insights into the experience of and attitudes to sport and physical activity for persons with disabilities and b) offer practical suggestions for a more proactive and sustainable approach to sport and physical activity provision. Further details about the research process and procedures can be found here.
Barriers and challenges for persons with disabilities to sport and physical activity
The findings identified several reported barriers to sport and physical activity participation for persons with disabilities. This includes cost of transport and activities, ineffective communication and advertisement, preconceived images of sport as competitive and judgmental, and anxieties about sporting abilities.
While none of these barriers should be underplayed, especially those caused by anxieties, perhaps the most significant barrier, and the main challenge for future provision, is that many persons with disabilities have not enjoyed, or perceive that they will not enjoy, partaking in sport and physical activity.
This lack of enjoyment can cause persons with disabilities to fixate on the difficulties of engaging, such as the cost and hassle of getting there. Indeed, while persons with disabilities often raise these as barriers to sport and physical activity participation, they do not seem to prevent them from engaging in other leisure activities that they enjoy, such as frequenting cinemas and bars and restaurants. Attempting to remove these reported barriers is fruitless unless sport and physical activity is first made more enjoyable.
The findings of this study have allowed for the generation of a number of suggestions for future practice. They include decentering ‘sport’ in favor of ‘activity’, within a multi-activity approach, which places emphasis on fun and enjoyment, and socializing through blended physical and non-physical provision.
Providers should ensure they employ a knowledgeable and empathetic workforce, who also work more closely with non-sporting disability support organizations vis-a-vis communication, time and place, and the gradual integration of physical activities into the mainstream provision of these organizations. This latter point is especially important, because by delivering sport and physical activity in a familiar setting, where persons with disabilities already attend, many of the reported external barriers and anxieties are avoided. While sport for development practitioners are encouraged to embrace the broad philosophy of these recommendations, they should be considered and implemented in light of the particular cultural context within which they reside.
Less ‘sport’, more ‘activity’
Persons with disabilities are often worried about their own capabilities and sometimes perceive sport to be competitive and unforgiving. This image of sport may prevent some from engaging in physical activity. Therefore, sport for development providers might seek to promote ‘activity’ rather than ‘sport’ and aim to create a welcoming and non-judgmental environment
Some persons with disabilities have never engaged in physical activity, or have limited, distant, and sometimes unpleasant memories of sport. Because of this, they may not always know what physical activities they might enjoy or have a talent for. Therefore, providers and sport coaches might look to adopt a multi-activity approach to their programs to prevent boredom, increase engagement, and improve the likelihood that persons with disabilities maintain an active lifestyle.
It must be fun!
Persons with disabilities often feel that they will not enjoy sport or physical activity, and will look for any excuse not to do it. This means that sport for development providers may only have one chance to engage them and change their attitudes toward physical activity. Therefore, they must ensure that enjoyment is prioritized above all other agendas. Fun must be at the heart of all provision!
Blended physical and non-physical activities
While persons with disabilities recognize the physical health benefits of exercise, many place greater emphasis on its qualities as an abettor to friendship-building and meaningful interactions. Therefore, providers and sport coaches might aim to more clearly acknowledge and cater for disabled people’s need for social wellbeing by including non-physical activities, such as coffee-drinking, lunches, and simply shared time with others in their physical activity provision
Persons with disabilities sometimes worry that sport practitioners will not acknowledge their anxieties or be able to accommodate their needs. Therefore, providers might aim to ensure that sport coaches have received at least basic training in how to deliver sport and physical activity for persons with disabilities. Going forward, sport for development providers might also give training opportunities to (non-sport) facilitators to learn how to integrate sport and physical activity into their provision so they themselves might take on sustainable delivery in the future.
Gradual integration of disability sport and physical activity into mainstream disability support
For some persons with disabilities, their impairments and preconceptions about sport and physical activity often create anxieties. As a result, they simultaneously desire and fear the idea of engaging in disability sport and physical activity via established disability sport clubs or mixed non-disabled/disabled recreation clubs and activities.
Therefore, disability support organizations should endeavor to work more closely with sport for development providers in the first instance to include more opportunities and then to allow for gradual integration of sport and physical activity into their own provision.
Simplified advertising, better communication
Persons with disabilities are often unaware of the sport and physical activity opportunities available to them in their local area. This is in part because of a lack of communication between sport for development providers, government, and disability organizations about future and current provision.
It also seems to stem from the mode of advertisement adopted by providers, which may assume that everyone has embraced the digital age. However, persons with disabilities may lack the skills or confidence to use computers and access the internet, or simply do not know where to look online.
Therefore, sport for development providers may need to better promote their activities using a variety of approaches, including communicating directly with disability organizations, producing ‘Easy Read’ flyers and posters, encouraging word-of-mouth, and ensuring that online information is easy to access.
Carefully considered time and place
Persons with disabilities may be anxious about going to new places, especially after dark. Many also find a lack of transport options and the cost of transport as a barrier to participation in sport and physical activity.
Therefore, sport for development providers might aim to take sport and physical activity out into the disabled community where possible, using spaces familiar to disabled groups (and, as suggested above, seek to incorporate provision into mainstream disability support going forward).
Alternatively, but perhaps less sustainably, providers may look to offer transport or subsidize transport costs, or if this is not feasible they should ensure that sport and physical activity is provided in a well-lit, well-known, safe location that is on a public transport route.
Dr Ben Ives is a Senior Lecturer in Community Sport and Community Sport Coaching in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. Ben uses qualitative research methods to analyze the impact and enactment of sport for development programs aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of targeted populations.
Dr Ben Clayton teaches sociocultural issues in sport and physical activity for the Centre for Human Performance, Exercise and Wellbeing at Buckinghamshire New University, UK. He has published widely on various topics related to the sociology of sport, sport development, sport policy, and interpretative methodologies for the study of sport and physical activity.
Dr Chris Mackintosh is a researcher with over 100 research and evaluation projects in his career to date. Chris completed his PhD in English mass participation sport policy in 2016 and he has worked with policy stakeholders including Sport Scotland, Sport Wales, Sport England, The Equality and Human Rights Commission, FA, RFU, Rugby Football League and a number of local authorities on national strategies, and bespoke academic research projects.
The NeedSport project: Bringing sport to children with special needs
NeedSport aims to bring sport to children with special needs, and is an international Erasmus+ project funded by the European Commission between 2018 and 2021, through the National Erasmus Agency of Slovenia.
NeedSport aims to bring sport to children with special needs, and is an international Erasmus+ project funded by the European Commission between 2018 and 2021 (Key-action 201. Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices: Strategic partnerships for school education) through the National Erasmus Agency of Slovenia.
With the coordination of Ljudska Univerza Rogaska Slatina (from Slovenia), the project includes 9 more partners, namely Osnovna Sola Rogaska Slatina and Elio Artic s.p. (Slovenia), Osnovna Skola Josipa Matosa and Prime Osijek (Croatia), 1st Special Primary School of Patras (Greece), Gdnya Sports Centre (Poland), IES La Puebla (Spain), and the Association for the Development of Youth Sport and the University of Coimbra (Portugal).
The main goals of the project are:
- To foster the involvement of children with special needs within sports activities
- To provide education and training to teachers and coaches
- To promote a stronger connection between local sport clubs and organizations that work with children with special needs.
The project has two main intellectual outputs: a didactic handbook for teachers and coaches and an Android application. Both resources are linked and will contain material about the positive effects of sports on children with special needs, showing concrete examples and ideas about which sports activities are more suitable to each kind of special need.
The main reason for creating this didactic handbook is the need for a useful tool for teachers, sport facilitators, parents and other people that work with children with special needs, in order to help them in the process of integrating these children into sports activities.
The handbook has two parts. The theoretical part presents information on the positive effects of sports, the advantages of inclusion, myths and mistakes about inclusion, capabilities and disabilities and inclusion strategies. The practical part includes examples of sport exercises addressing different disabilities, according to different sport categories.
These resources aim to promote the advantages of inclusion as extensive and positive to everyone who is involved in the process.
Indeed, it is well known that inclusion can contribute to a better world. Although, the way to reach it is full of barriers. Some of these barriers are just simple common mistakes and myths (which are clarified throughout the handbook), but others are social, economic and human barriers, which must be broken down.
The concepts of barriers and facilitators are treated in the handbook according to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). Other concepts are also overviewed, like those related to body functions, body structures, impairments, activities and participation.
To understand inclusion and put it into practice, focus needs to be on the individual characteristics of every child, to analyse through a developmental approach of their abilities and difficulties. Rather than focusing on the child’s diagnosis or difficulties, we need to carefully observe what they are capable of doing.
The diagnosis itself does not define a child or their abilities, because within the same diagnosis there are countless different realities and situations. On the other hand, children with different diagnoses may have similar difficulties and abilities. Thus, the objective is to facilitate an evaluation to find suitable activities in which children can use their skills.
With the purpose of helping the reader, the handbook also includes several strategies for inclusion, divided by areas: cognitive, communication, motor, social and behaviour areas and sensorial processing.
In the second part of the book, exercises focused on strategies to overcome some of the difficulties are identified. In this chapter, the strategies proposed are in line with the theoretical information previously given.
With the purpose of involving the parents of these children and improving their awareness about the need for including their kids in sport and its benefits, we have also suggested strategies to support the communication between teachers/coaches and parents.
This project hopes to help teachers, coaches, parents and others in improving their knowledge and their skills for the inclusion of children with special needs in sports activities in a proper manner. We hope to launch the handbook publicly soon.