The PLAY’In Together programme: Towards a better inclusion of people with disabilities through sports play
PLAY International is a French non-political NGO founded in 1999. Its main objective is to promote sport and play as tools for education, integration and empowerment of youth and children. Since its creation, PLAY has deployed programs that mobilize sport as a lever for education and social inclusion in 15 countries, benefiting nearly 850,000 children.
Since 2016 and after the success of a pilot project carried out with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and UNICEF, aiming to contribute to children’s education and address the contemporary challenge of peace and inclusion through the universal Olympic values (OV) of respect, friendship and excellence, PLAY decided to get directly involved in the inclusion of children with disabilities through sport.
PLAY International has, for the last 2 years, been involved as the coordinating organization of the European project PLAY'In Together. Implemented over two and a half years (from the beginning of 2019 to the third trimester of 2021), the project aims to take action in favour of a greater inclusion of children and adolescents with disabilities through the promotion, at the European level, of Olympic and Paralympic values through sports games.
Thus, and in accordance with the method developed and used for all PLAY international programs, the main focus of PLAY'In Together's action consists in training professionals from the educational community, who supervise children from 6 to 12 years old, in specifically created content dedicated to the target audience.
More precisely, the project is articulated around 3 phases:
- A first phase focused on changing mindset on disabilities (with non-disabled children) during which the objective was to train facilitators and teachers in sessions of socio-sports activities designed to bring about a change in the perception of disabilities, and thus generate more inclusive behaviours
- A second phase (currently in progress) aimed at encouraging children with disabilities to feel legitimate to practice sport and to make them aware of their potential. Educators from specialized institutions are targeted during this phase
- A last phase focused on inclusion by creating opportunities for mixed sports games between children without and with disabilities
In total, PLAY’IN Together aims to train 90 specialized educators, 270 facilitators and 448 teachers in the deployment of socio-sports sessions focusing on the themes described above. They will then be led to set up these activities for the benefit of 20,200 children aged between 6 and 12 years old.
Undoubtedly, a good practice that emerges first from this project is due to its nature since it is a project carried by a consortium of stakeholders from different sectors, associated here in a logic of complementarity. PLAY’IN Together indeed brings together 8 partners from all over Europe that share the common characteristics of having a very high level of knowledge and competencies in the field of sport and a particular interest on the question of disability.
PLAY International and the partners involved in the project believe it is from this complementarity and diversity that innovative practices could be developed. In our programme in particular, three types of partners are gathered through the consortium: an academic partner with an expertise in leading research and diagnosis on issues relating to disabilities, five operational partners with leverage and experience to carry field activities and three institutional partners with strong leadership and dissemination capabilities to ensure the visibility and advocacy of the project on a European scene.
Another idea or good practice that we would like to highlight and promote is the innovative dimension that runs through the project at different scales. In addition to the fact that, at the European level today, too few actors use sport as a prevention and awareness tool and that it is essential in our eyes to use sport not only as a mainly occupational/competitive purposes, the PLAY'IN Together project stands out for its innovative pedagogical engineering, based on two proven methodologies.
The first, entitled Education through sport (ETS) is a pedagogical method developed by the Bulgarian Sport Development Association (BSDA) and European specialists. It has proven to address communication problems, promote human rights understanding, and create feelings of community belonging.
The second, entitled Playdagogy, is PLAY International’s modelized pedagogical method. It is innovative since it was developed in a development context (in Bolivia) and then modelled in France. While many projects develop their solutions first at headquarters and then deploy them abroad, PLAY International wanted to reverse this logic to share expertise and local experiences to be then modeled at the headquarters of the association. The method relies on traditional sports games to convey thematic awareness messages. A Playdagogy session lasts approximately 45-60 minutes, and is structured in 3 stages that each constitute opportunities for the child to get an interest in a given theme:
- A typical session relies on physical activities (handball, basketball, etc.) or traditional games (cat and mouse, etc.). Children play, enjoy, and memorize rules while practicing a physical activity
- Vocabulary and symbols are then integrated in the activity to familiarize the child with the theme. These parallels between a play-based and real-life situation will then be discussed
- At the end of a session, a debate is organized to accompany the child in thinking, expressing and assimilating the awareness messages of the game. Key preventive messages are transmitted and discussed.
The combination of these two pedagogical methods, in addition to the scientific material provided by our academic partner, has been very interesting in the co-creation of the socio-sports sessions.
However, the addressed specific theme led us to make the following observation that it was difficult to establish a common lexicon of terms used in the different European countries to talk about disability. After having tried to build a common typology, the partners chose to agree on a change of scientific approach during the project.
Thus, a last recommendation that we would make to organizations wishing to set up a project for the inclusion of people with disabilities through sport would be to favor an approach not according to the types of disabilities but according to the necessary adaptations to be implemented in the games to favor their participation and well-being.