Discourse on the use of sport as a tool to empower people with disabilities has encouraged significant policy developments. This discourse is also based on the practical experiences of those using sport and adapted physical activity with people with disabilities. Recommendations from actors in this field have been developed and are included in this section.

Policy development

International charters and policies

Early international policies related to sport and development began with the Council of Europe formulating a policy on Sport For All which was passed in 1976 declaring that every individual shall have the right to participate in sport.

In 1978, the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted an International Charter of Physical Education and Sport which stated that every person is entitled to participate in sport, including specifically women, young people, the elderly and those with a disability. The United Nations declared 1981 the International Year of Disabled People and although there was much debate over the term ‘disabled people’ this was the first step in raising global awareness about people with disabilities and some of the issues they were facing.

In 1987, the Council of Europe extended their recognition of the right to participate in sport by creating the Sport for All: Disabled People charter.

What matters most for the Council of Europe, as reflected in the words of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, is that ‘sport should become a driving force for the disabled to seek or restore his contact with the world around him and this his recognition as an equal and respected citizen'.

The United Nations declared 1981 to 1991 the International Decade of People with a Disability and following this decade developed the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Persons with Disabilities. Another important outcome of these developments was the introduction of an International Day for Disabled People.

Some of these early international instruments related to sport have enabled participation in sport to grow around the world and also stimulated policy development in regions of the world. In Europe, 2003 was declared the European Year of Persons with Disabilities at the end of which a Decalogue of Adapted Sport was proposed. This was followed by a European Year of Education through Sport in 2004. Similar examples of regional policy development are evidenced by the African Decade of Disabled Persons (2000 – 2009).

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In December 2006, the United Nations enacted a comprehensive legislation called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of the convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities. Importantly, the convention also includes in Article 30.5, specific legislation on the rights of people with a disability to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities.

This convention is a major step toward changing the perception of disability and ensures that societies recognise that all people must be provided with the opportunities to live life to their fullest potential, whatever that may be. Other human rights treaties, such as the conventions on the rights of children and women have had a major effect in addressing rights violations and this new convention is a major milestone in the protection of human rights of people with a disability around the world.

Tools and practice

More and more coaching resources and materials are emerging that focus on including people with a disability in sport. The principles of adapting and modifying activities to include people with a disability are constantly developing as research and programme development continues.

Key tips for including people with a disability in sport:

  • Treat people with disabilities who participate in sport as athletes
  • Focus on what the athlete can do and has the potential to do. A lack of skill does not necessarily indicate the lack of potential ability
  • Teaching or coaching style, rules, equipment and the environment can all be adapted and modified to promote active participation from every person
  • Use the athlete as a resource of information on themselves, and ask them what they can do and how specific tasks may be modified to suit their skill level
  • Whether a disability is acquired from birth or later in life may have an impact on a person’s basic skill level
  • Including people with disabilities is simply good coaching

Future priorities

Discourse in Sport & Disability has advanced significantly compared to other areas in Sport & Development. Many experts in the area of sport and disability have developed a consensus on the future priorities for research, policy development and advocacy in this area.

These priorities include:

  • Increase support and funding to conduct empirical studies on topics of disability sport and adapted physical activity in developing countries including, participation levels, attitudes, legislation, barriers and benefits of sport and physical activity
  • Develop further studies of mental health and psychological well-being as an outcome of sport participation for people with a disability
  • Create affordable technologies, and increasing accessibility and universal designs in both the environment and the structures/rules of sports
  • Produce inclusive coaching manuals and educational material in multiple languages and formats to make it accessible to developing countries
  • Research and develop monitoring and evaluation tools to ensure quality sport programmes are being implemented effectively and meeting target outcomes
  • Explore qualitative research into disability sport participation in developing countries such as case studies in specific countries and regions, necessary in order to direct and consolidate development efforts
  • Create opportunities to share knowledge, experiences and best practice
  • Utilise new technologies and online communication to enhance collaboration between development organisations, researchers and programme staff
  • Widely promote the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to policy-makers in developing countries and lobby for national policy developments to improve access to sporting opportunities for people with a disability

Image by Shotpot