Umoya sports: Perspectives from India
Only 1 in 5 children with disabilities play sports with their friends. This challenge reflects in other aspects of their lives, and, unfortunately, out of 40 - 80 million people with disabilities in India, 46% are uneducated, 39% drop out from school and 63% of them are unemployed.
We have identified 3 specific challenges faced by Students with Disabilities (SwD) leading to this crisis, which we refer as ‘Inclusive Education crisis:’
1. Lack of quality programs providing holistic development to students with disabilities in schools. There is also a lack of teachers in private and public schools that are equipped to work with SwD
2. Lack of social skills development, because of social stigma and misconceptions about disabilities, making it difficult for SwD to integrate into society. Lack of awareness about and empathy toward people with disabilities creates barriers for SwD
3. Lack of physical education and physical activity leads to various subsequent physical and mental health issues. Unfortunately, SwD are frequently left out, be it in school or communities, and often do not participate in sports or physical education, either due to lack of accessibility or because they are neglected or denied from participating
Moreover, with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, families with young children have faced a range of challenges. With schools closed and no play for children, young children face a range of challenges, including ensuring continued access to holistic and social-emotional education.
These challenges have compounded even more for children with disabilities, especially given the inability to continue to access therapy, special ed or other vital medical care; resulting in the widening of the learning gap and critical need to meaningfully engage all children to remain physically and mentally active.
Responding through play to COVID-19
Families and children with disabilities find it hard to put their child into programmes and the current pandemic has compounded the challenges for them.
One parent told us that the long lockdown made her child depressed and he gained too much weight. He stopped talking, and his anxiety levels had increased.
Another parent told us: “My child has hypotonia (low muscle tone) and balance and coordination issues. She needs physical therapy daily otherwise her muscles will waste. We used to call a physiotherapist home earlier, but this has stopped due to pandemic.”
Keeping our children’s well-being at the center and to make play more accessible, we launched Ability Spark, an at-home play and wellbeing program.
Ability Spark is an inclusive digital physical education program for all children (whether disabled or non-disabled), with the focus on developing overall physical and mental well-being through yoga and fun outcome-based sports and physical education activities. We aim to ensure that all children continue to engage in relevant, age, and skill-appropriate play and fitness activities from their homes. Our life-skills and foundation academic skills mapped play program ensure that the fun and learning continue during these times
The Ability Spark program integrates STEM based early childhood education concepts such as basics of literacy, numeracy and pre-numeracy skills and basic life-skills such as body parts, colours, shapes, directions and patterns through fun play-based education.
The primary goals of Ability Spark program are:
- To educate learners in a manner that enables them to integrate play and exercise in their daily life while focusing on developing 5 fundamental development skills in children, including motor coordination, strength and endurance, balance and posture, agility and mindfulness
- To develop the cognitive skills of all children by building conceptual understanding of foundations of numeracy and literacy. The program aims to empower teachers and parents to replace traditional classroom teaching with play-based hands-on education
- To create a safe and inclusive social space for children with and without disabilities to interact and learn from each other while building empathy and joy. Through the buddy system, the program aims to build a culture of inclusion in classrooms enabling peer-led support systems for each child
We understand that every child is unique and has different learning style and learning abilities. Ability Spark makes learning fun and appropriate for every child. Ability Spark aims to serve as a toolkit for educators to ensure a physical and mental wellbeing of children through innovative program features such as:
- Videos: Each activity consists of pre-recorded videos, demonstrated and modelled by adapted sports mentors along with a child. These self-paced videos enable visual learners to watch, follow, play and learn the activity for maximum impact
- Instruction manuals: Every activity has extensive step-by-step instructions on how to perform the activity. The instruction card also highlights how that activity will build essential life skills in the child, thereby helping them in becoming independent
- Activity Adaptations: Differentiated learning practices for every activity through age, and skill-appropriate adaptations and variations depending on (dis)abilities of children are shared, making it inclusive for all children. There are also visual cues provided that encourages the child to play the activity independently
- Activity Worksheets: The worksheets are student reflection journals which track their activity performance along with academic and social-emotional learning
We have partnered with UNESCO India to implement the 3-month Ability Spark program. The program was free, and over 450 parents and 100 schools, organizations , NGOs and teachers subscribed for it, spread over more than 15 Indians states and 7 countries, enabling us to reach out to more than 10,000 children on a daily basis.
We gained the following insights from the post-program survey:
- 91% of participants rated their experience as 4 or above (out of 5)
- 96% of parents and teachers felt a sense of emotional wellbeing and an improvement in fundamental development skills of the children
- 83% of parents and teachers observed higher physical and play activeness in their child(ren)
- 86% of participants felt an improvement in motor skills and development skills
- 95% of parents and teachers showed interest in having a long-term annual program
Aditya K.V. is the Founder-CEO of Umoya Sports.