Inclusive sports for development: Improving social participation and education of children with disabilities in Bangladesh
Handicap International - Humanity & Inclusion (HI), Bangladesh, started their inclusive sports programming in 2006, and continues this work in both development and humanitarian contexts.
From 2018 to 2020 HI Bangladesh implemented an inclusive sport for development project in Mymensing and Tangail districts of Bangladesh, funded by the UEFA Foundation. The main objective of this project was to promote social participation and access to inclusive education of children with disabilities through participation in inclusive sports activities.
Key elements of HI’s approach
In all its projects, HI uses the twin track approach, in line with the Disability Creation Process, which sees disability as a complex interaction between personal factors, environmental factors and life habits. The inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream sports requires cultivating and applying inclusive practices at all levels, rather than concentrating solely on a child’s impairment.
As such, inclusive sports work requires the twin track approach where the individual needs of children with disabilities are addressed at the same time as addressing societal, legal, and economic and health barriers to sports. The key elements of this approach are:
- An inclusive approach: ‘inclusive sports for development’ refers to activities where persons of different abilities, gender, age, ethnical backgrounds, etc. participate in the same activity, with the objective to increase social participation, social cohesion, other specific objectives depending on the project, and of course, to have fun
- A child-centered and participatory approach: centered on the needs and rights of individual children and young persons with disabilities and the communities in which they live, aimed at maximal participation of children throughout the project cycle (e.g. children’s clubs, child-led monitoring committees)
- A partnership approach: including both grassroots and institutional partners who should be actively engaged in the design and planning phase through to implementation and evaluation
- A multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approach: collaboration across government bodies, ministries, public bodies, informal groups, and private and specialized sectors
Lessons learned and recommendations
- Inclusive sports for increased awareness of disability and inclusion
This project confirmed the important role of inclusive sports for increased awareness of disability and inclusion. For example, parents involved in the project are now taking their children with disabilities to sports and other social events, and children with disabilities shared that they are bullied and teased less at school and in the community. It remains important, however, to create a solid understanding on the positive change inclusive sports for development can bring.
- Sustainability: the importance of working with local partners and investing in strengthening local organizations
During the project, many partnerships were established between local NGOs, the National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Persons (JPUF), the department of social services, the department of youth and sports, private eye and ear care centers, assistive device workshops, etc. There are better linkages with the national football and cricket players, and the government is providing spaces and free lands to set up sports clubs. However, for a next phase it is recommended to invest even more in strengthening of Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPD’s) and on the coordination between the different stakeholders.
- Linking inclusive sports and inclusive education
The inclusive sports activities were closely linked with the objective of increased participation in inclusive education. As a result of this:
- Classrooms are more accessible with adjusted seating arrangements, allowing adequate space for the children using wheelchairs, and encouraging children with visual and hearing impairments to sit in the front
- Interactive learning environment have been created by using locally-made accessible education materials
- Evaluation systems have been modified and made flexible for children with disabilities
- Interventions are customized, as identified through the individualized education plan (IEP)
- Child-centered vulnerability mapping is an effective tool for participatory risk mitigation including protection and safety in schools
- School teachers spend extra time for slow learners, and welcome children with disabilities in admissions
- Sport coaches, including teachers, are continuing the organization of activities
- The importance of comprehensive child and caregiver support
Some children and their families, especially children with intellectual, more severe, or multiple disabilities, might need social support. It is, therefore, important to invest in caregiver support in the form of training, with adequate social support services and well-coordinated case management and referral mechanisms.
It is also important to make the link with financial barriers to access these services (transports costs, medication, assistive devices, etc.), and to foresee this as part of the project, by giving referrals to existing social protection programmes or by including a social fund as part of the project.
- “Child to child” support system
During the inclusive sports activities and in the classroom, children with different abilities were encouraged to support each other. The children received training and were carefully matched with the support of sport coaches. This resulted in increased awareness of disability and the concept of inclusion, and contributed to greater social participation, not only during activities, but also outside of them.
Ripon Chakraborty is the Technical Advisor of Inclusion at HI Bangladesh.
Stacey Zevenbergen is the Social Development Global Specialist at HI.