Empowering Persons With Disabilities Through Sport

Mon May 11 2015 Anand Ram­per­sad
Published by Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

It was very en­light­en­ing that Sport formed part of the dis­cus­sions en­ti­tled “To­wards So­cial In­te­gra­tion: Rights, Roles, Recog­ni­tion of per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties” host­ed by the Network and Out­reach for Disabil­i­ty Ed­u­ca­tion and Sen­si­ti­za­tion (NODES) and the Disabil­i­ty Stud­ies Unit, UWI April 23rd-24th at the UWI, St. Au­gus­tine.

There were two very thought pro­vok­ing pre­sen­ta­tions by Pro­fes­sor Jayne McGuire from Hum­boldt State Uni­ver­si­ty, Cal­i­for­nia and Dr. Roy Mc­Cree, UWI, St. Au­gus­tine.

McGuire’s pre­sen­ta­tion “Chang­ing minds through recre­ation and sport” high­light­ed the so­cial, psycholog­i­cal and emo­tion­al ben­e­fits that par­tic­i­pa­tion in sport and recre­ation­al activ­i­ties can en­gen­der for both able bod­ied and per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. She not­ed that leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, recre­ation­al activities and or­ga­nized com­pet­i­tive sport all have a role to play in bring­ing peo­ple to­geth­er by providing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to en­gage in ac­tiv­i­ties that will not on­ly yield per­son­al hap­pi­ness but al­so help build a greater sense of so­cial integration.

Ac­cord­ing to McGuire, the process of change through recre­ation and sport has to be built up­on a ‘Univer­sal De­sign for Recre­ation’. The ‘Uni­ver­sal De­sign for Recre­ation’ com­prised of sev­er­al components:

1) Eq­ui­table par­tic­i­pa­tion- equal op­por­tu­ni­ty is not enough to in­clude per­sons with disabil­i­ties. There must be a gen­uine dis­play of in­ter­est by en­sur­ing that all sport­ing and recre­ation­al spaces are de­signed to cater for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. This will in­clude ath­letes, of­fi­cials, ad­min­is­tra­tors and spec­ta­tors.

2) Sim­ple and In­tu­itive par­tic­i­pa­tion- en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion by mak­ing com­plex tasks as sim­ple as pos­si­ble. For ex­am­ple, reg­is­tra­tion must be made as sim­pli­fied as pos­si­ble so that it does not serve as a dis­in­cen­tive to per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

3) Per­cep­ti­ble in­for­ma­tion- at all times in­for­ma­tion must be pro­vid­ed in mul­ti­ple forms such as ver­bal and writ­ten. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, of­fi­cials and or­gan­is­ers must al­ways en­sure that de­scrip­tive lan­guage forms part of the in­for­ma­tion. This will en­tail en­sur­ing that administra­tors, vol­un­teers etc are trained with the ba­sic skills re­quired to in­ter­act with per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

4) So­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties- crit­i­cal to­ward de­vel­op­ing so­cial in­te­gra­tion through sport and recre­ation is the need to form work­ing part­ner­ships be­tween the abled and per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. These work­ing groups can forge stronger so­cial bond be­tween par­tic­i­pants and the wider com­mu­ni­ty.

5) Strength/as­set based- every ef­fort should be made to high­light the process­es tar­get­ing in­crease partic­i­pa­tion among per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. The pub­lic must be con­tin­u­ous­ly in­formed of the programmes. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, all par­tic­i­pants and elites ath­letes must be cele­brat­ed eq­ui­tably. No one should be iso­lat­ed or mar­gin­alised be­cause of dis­abil­i­ties.

Mc­Cree’s pre­sen­ta­tion en­ti­tled “Sport and dis­abil­i­ty in Trinidad and To­ba­go: An explorato­ry study,” point­ed out sev­er­al chal­lenges fac­ing the de­vel­op­ment of dis­abil­i­ty sport and recre­ation.

Mc Cree ar­gues that Dif­fer­ent­ly Abled Ath­letes (DI­AA’s) use sport as a means of challenging the dominance of the abled-bod­ied. In oth­er words, sport pro­vides a space for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties to ex­press them­selves and show­case their abil­i­ties and tal­ents just as able bod­ied per­sons do. There­fore, DIAA’s re­quire eq­ui­ty in the ac­cess to all re­sources and the man­ner in which they are treat­ed.

How­ev­er, per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties are faced with sev­er­al ma­jor chal­lenges in gen­er­al let alone in sport and recre­ation. These in­clude:

1) The ab­sent of fa­cil­i­ties that cater thor­ough­ly for the needs of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties who may be ath­letes, ad­min­is­tra­tors, of­fi­cials and the gen­er­al spec­ta­tors. Are the up­grades to recre­ation­al grounds in­cor­po­rat­ing the needs of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties? What if a foreign sport­ing team through a school and or a club were to vis­it? Will they feel at home and or dis­ad­van­taged? Sport Tourism must al­so cater for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

2) Fund­ing- there is no clear defin­ing pol­i­cy as it re­lates to fund­ing to ath­letes with disabili­ties. Further­more, a ques­tion should be raised as to whether or not there is any clear­ly defined strat­e­gy as part of the sport for de­vel­op­ment pol­i­cy that in­cludes purposeful­ly persons with dis­abil­i­ties?

3) Pub­lic at­ti­tudes and stereo­types- Per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties are faced with many tradition­al views and stereo­types that not on­ly mar­gin­alis­es but al­so serves to pro­vide severe emo­tion­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal pain. Too of­ten per­sons are made to feel re­spon­si­ble for their dis­abil­i­ties.

Mc­Cree made sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions that can go a long way to­ward in­te­grat­ing the abled with persons with dis­abil­i­ties in sport. These in­clud­ed:

1) A pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign to sen­si­tise the gen­er­al pub­lic about per­sons with disabilities

2) In­clud­ing a course on DI­AA’s as part of the Dis­abil­i­ty syl­labus at the UWI

3) Need to de­vel­op a sep­a­rate sport pol­i­cy on per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

4) The host­ing of a con­fer­ence on Sport and Dis­abil­i­ty to bring to the fore­front the research that has been con­duct­ed else­where in the world. Such a con­fer­ence can as­sist technocrats and oth­er ad­min­is­trators in the de­vel­op­ing of a sport pol­i­cy that is very much inclu­sive and not ex­clu­sive to the abled.

At the end of the day, the on­ly dis­ap­point­ment of the pan­el on sport was the ab­sence of the peo­ple who make de­ci­sions on sport in Trinidad and To­ba­go at var­i­ous lev­els. Hope­ful­ly, as we seek to move forward as a peo­ple through sport, all our poli­cies, strate­gies and imple­men­ta­tion plans will take in­to con­sid­er­a­tion the to­tal lives of per­sons with disabilities.

Empowering Persons With Disabilities Through Sport