Through sports, people with disabilities acquire vital social skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change
People with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in both developed and developing countries. Their exclusion in economic and social terms is a serious development challenge. If a country fails to mainstream people with disabilities, it becomes increasingly difficult to attain inclusive and sustainable development. People’s exclusion from essential services such as food, healthcare, education affects their ability to participate in social and economic activities. Sports, nevertheless, have been identified as the great means to include people with disabilities and to breaking barriers while promoting inclusion of those left behind.
People with disabilities constitute approximately 15 percent of the global population of which 80 percent live in low-income countries in impoverished conditions with limited or no access to basic services, including rehabilitation facilities. Social exclusion for the disabled comprises of various types of deprivations linked to socio-political factors, such as culture, religion, ethnicity, language, gender, geography, physical or intellectual ability—resulting in stigma and discrimination of individuals. Sport is a way to engage these people in the lives of their communities, thereby enriching their lives as well as that of the communities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is the first legally binding international instrument to address the rights of persons with disabilities. Sports address both mainstream and disability-specific sport provisions help further empower people with disabilities to better their lives and that of their communities.
A series of resolutions adopted by the General Assembly reiterates the need to include disability in the Sustainable Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals. Article 30 (5) of UNCRPD states: “States parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels”. It also obligates that governments ensure persons with disabilities have access to sport and recreational means—both as audience and as active participants.
How sports help
There are two major ways sports can benefit people excluded due to disability. First, sport changes people’s perception about them. It empowers them to recognize their potential and advocate for changes to enable them to fully reach their potential.
Ramesh Khatri, survivor of 2015 earthquakes, is an example from Nepal. He is participating in wheelchair basketball, swimming and others. Through sports, Ramesh is making the full utilization of his ability and making his family and the nation proud.
Second, it changes societal perception about the capacity of people with disabilities. Regardless of their capability, ability or background, sports bring all people together in a positive context and help them attain their full potential. This helps dismantling barriers and stigma associated with disability and changes attitude of gatekeepers. Through sports, people with disabilities acquire vital social skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change.
Sport teaches individuals how to communicate effectively, significance of teamwork, cooperation and respect for others. It is also well-suited to reducing dependence and developing greater independence by helping people with disabilities become physically and mentally stronger.
These skills can later be transferred into other arenas of employment and livelihoods. Through sports, persons without disabilities can interact with persons with disabilities in a positive context, which will help them change their assumptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do. Moreover, sport’s unique ability to transcend linguistic, cultural and social barriers makes it an excellent tool of inclusion and adaptation.
Sports can be a vehicle for promotion of accessible and inclusive development for people with disabilities by removing barriers and empowering individuals to reach their full potential. It also encourages them for their effective participation in society and development. But also need to conduct the detailed study on the individual assessments of selected people with disabilities on competence, confidence, and self-awareness measures. This has not happened in Nepal so far.
Families, communities, rehabilitation centers, sports clubs and likeminded agencies need to work together for improving the quality of sports for individuals. The sports coaches need to be trained on disability issues. Organizations working for persons with disabilities can play a crucial role in this.
Establishing parent support group is necessary for persons with specific type of mental or intellectual disability. This will help ensure their overall wellbeing and, at the same time, offer great support to parents and caretakers.
Peer support and exposure visit will also encourage them to be part of sports-oriented programs and boost their confidence to be active participants of the programs. In schools, teachers should be trained on the methodology for the inclusive sports so that they become successful to empower young people with disabilities.
We need to consider sports as a platform and catalyst for fostering inclusion and overall wellbeing of people with disabilities and for inclusive development. It, indeed, can become a vehicle to achieve integrated and sustainable development.
The author is associated with Handicap International-Humanity and Inclusion (Bangladesh). Views are personal