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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Sport and Inclusion of People with Disabilities

Sport has been identified as a powerful tool for social development, including the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Sport can act as an important tool for changing attitudes, breaking down barriers of inequality and creating more opportunities for persons with disabilities. The Paralympic Games and national paralympic associations/committees play a large role in promoting and leading the use of sport as a tool for social inclusion.

It’s only been 20 years since the agreement between the IOC and the IPC for “one bid, one city”. This agreement means that whoever bids to host the Olympic Games must also host the Paralympic Games. Forbes estimates that 5 billion around the world viewed some of the 2016 Rio Olympics, while 4.1 billion caught a glimpse of the Paralympics. Viewership of the Paralympics has been steadily increasing, with only 1.8 billion watching in 2004. Access to internet and tv may have impacted this over the last two decades for both the Paralympics and the Olymics, but also since the combination of the two Games I’m sure has driven awareness and audience of the Paralympics. This agreement has already been extended for at least ten years, but I'm sure it will continue. However, hosting them as separate events I think it almost the idea reinforces that disability is different. We can't treat the issues separately, accessibility can't be built in as an afterthought, it has to be thought of from the beginning.

The Canada Games is an excellent example of a national multisport and is one of the only in the world that has special olympics events, para events and able-bodied events competing during the same time, unlike the Olympics and Paralympics which occur several weeks apart. And it’s been this way since the 1990s.

“Sport can help reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with disability because it can transforms community attitudes about persons with disabilities by highlighting their skills and reducing the tendency to see the disability instead of the person. Through sport, persons without disabilities interact with persons with disabilities in a positive context forcing them to reshape assumptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do.”

I spent a summer in Vietnam during my undergraduate degree volunteering at a Centre for Disabled Youth. It is in the Vietnamese culture to view a disability as a sort of punishment for sins committed in their previous life. These culturally entrenched views are not easily changed, but sport can and does slowly change these norms. Sport can help break down barriers between people of different abilities and break down those cultural views. The documentary Rising Phoenix, it documents how after the Beijing Olympics, societal perspectives of people with disabilities started to shift.

We need to partner changing societal views with concrete actions. Just as much we need to change minds, we also need to change our infrastructure in our cities. Buildings, public transit all need to be accessible. This can be another way that sport can be a vessel for accessibility, by making our sport and recreation facilities accessible we can show how to make our society accessible from design. We have to design with accessibility and inclusion in mind.


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