Perspectives on the Americans with Disabilities Act and adaptive sports from Zambia and Belgium
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The last article in a six part series celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and exploring how the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division promotes the ADA through sport-based exchange programs.

In April 2018, Ms. Mable Nedziwe participated in a Sports Visitor exchange focused on promoting disability rights and inclusion that was held in Washington, D.C. and Louisville, KY. In February 2020, Ms. Amal Amjahid participated in a Sports Visitor exchange focused on promoting adaptive martial arts and empowering at-risk youth that was held in San Diego, CA and Orlando, FL. You can view a video highlighting Ms. Amjahid’s program here

Sports Visitors are non-elite youth athletes, coaches, and administrators who travel to the United States for a fast-paced short-term sports cultural exchange. During the program, they engage with American peers and sports practitioners, participate in clinics and sessions on leadership, team-building and conflict resolution, as well as on inclusion and equity in sport. The Sports Visitor program is implemented under a cooperative agreement between the Sports Diplomacy division and Family Health International (FHI 360). 

The following is an edited selection of Ms. Amjahid and Ms. Nedziwe’s perspective on adaptive sports, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and their U.S.-based exchange experience. You can find both of their full responses in English here and Ms. Amjahid’s response in French here.  

What is your current role and can you describe your experience working in adaptive sports?

Ms. Nedziwe (Zambia) – My experience working with adaptive sports in Zambia has been challenging...nonetheless, I have managed to partner with the Zambian Advocacy for Persons Living with Disabilities (ZAPD) under the Ministry of Community and Social Welfare in Zambia to conduct sports, health, and advocacy activities. On a personal level, I have partnered with colleagues to design a project entitled Project Life in Motion (ProLim) that will supplement government efforts to promote the health and well-being of persons with disabilities.  

Ms. Amjahid (Belgium) - Currently, I coordinate the para-jiu-jitsu activities and manage relationships between the children, the coaches and the parents to best meet their needs.

What are some of the challenges you face in your community, organization, or country in designing sports opportunities for people with disabilities?  How are you overcoming these?

Ms. Nedziwe (Zambia) – We face material (equipment and access to facilities), financial, and technical (trained coaches) challenges as well as stigma towards people living with disabilities.  

Ms. Amjahid (Belgium) - Our association began in 2004 to welcome children with disabilities who were denied access to most of the sports clubs to which they attended. In order to fight against social exclusion, we made the decision to include them in our Jiu-Jitsu classes alongside able-bodied children. Although we failed to include adaptive options for all forms of disability as the facilities, the space, the safety and the type of handicaps were all obstacles. Therefore, we decided to offer electric wheelchair football, which has enabled us to adapt to different disabilities and we have invited able-bodied people to join them.   

What did you do while in the United States on your Sports Visitor exchange and what did you learn about the United States related to adaptive sports?  

Ms. Nedziwe (Zambia) – I met with many organizations and individuals including Positive Coaching Alliance, the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital Punishers Wheelchair Basketball Team, Ann Cody who is the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, the Grassroots Project, the Kentucky Special Olympics, among many others. I learned about the use of sports to provide health literacy and social empowerment programs. I am excited about the prospect of holding adaptive sporting events and to attract attention of both able bodied and persons living with disabilities and demonstrate that disability is not an inability.  

Ms. Amjahid (Belgium) - We were able to visit many associations and meet many people involved in the cause of inclusion through sport. We met awesome people like Elaine Cooluris, Executive Director ADA San Diego, who participated in the creation of the first social inclusion bill aimed at combating discrimination against people with disabilities and hiring them within American corporations, which is in my opinion an extraordinary advance on a national and international scale, because it has inspired and propelled this cause in many other countries.

What did you learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Ms. Nedziwe (Zambia) – In line with the ADA, physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society. I strongly believe that with the right support from Government and other stakeholders, rights of persons with disabilities can be enhanced. 

Ms. Amjahid (Belgium) – This law has had an incredible positive impact on many Americans, especially empowerment through sport for people with disabilities. Sport, particularly martial arts, has helped people with disabilities build an independent life by allowing them to take part in society. I am fascinated by the way in which disabilities are accommodated to allow them to be part of this larger community, allowing them to be seen as athletes.  

How have you integrated what you learned on the exchange with your work?

Ms. Nedziwe (Zambia) – The experience greatly sharpened my knowledge and skills in adaptive sports and I have incorporated adaptive sports into our work plans for the Western Province. We held sports and physical activities on the last two International Day of Persons with Disabilities and have formed coalitions with other institutions in adaptive sports. During these events we have been preaching about the rights of persons with disabilities as well as talking about how adaptive sporting activities can enhance their health and well-being.  

Ms. Amjahid (Belgium) – We hope to replicate the models of inclusion that have been proven in the United States, such as having disabled athletes serve as instructors who teach both able-bodied and disabled people, which allows them to transcend their disability. We are currently designing a training course in Adaptive Jiu-Jitsu in order to increase the number of clubs that can accommodate people with disabilities and thus expand our programming to a greater number of locations.

Learn more about the Sports Diplomacy Division - https://eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/initiatives/sports-diplomacy

  • The rest of the articles in the series are available in the side-panel.