Sports Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities

With the SEA Games round the corner and the 8th ASEAN Para Games 2015 slated for later this year, SPD social worker Benjamin Han tells UPDATES that sports is not [...]

With the SEA Games round the corner and the 8th ASEAN Para Games 2015 slated for later this year, SPD social worker Benjamin Han tells UPDATES that sports is not just for able-bodied individuals. In fact, sports has its role in integrating persons with disabilities into society.

Benefits of sports inclusion
Sports and recreational games have always been a popular topic of interest among Singaporeans, generating much enthusiasm within and across all levels of society. Regular exercises provide many physical and mental health benefits, while collective passion and support for a particular team help to foster a sense of community and identity which are key elements of social support.

Persons with disabilities who have engaged in sports for a period of time often feel a sense of belonging to their group, experience less loneliness, and have improved communication with their friends. The interaction and teamwork in team games also help to develop friendships.

Sports can serve to bond people within society and hence, sports inclusion, whereby persons of varying abilities can take part in sports together, can play a large party in helping to build a cohesive society.

Sporting challenges for persons with disabilities
The foremost challenge in sports inclusion for persons with disabilities would be their physical abilities and mobility. Most sports are designed for players with optimum physical fitness, which naturally becomes a pre-requisite when the games become competitive. This would then become hurdles which persons with disabilities have to cross while trying to get involved in a sporting activity, and may hamper their participation and dampen their interest. As a result, they miss out on the health and wellness benefits of sports, and opportunities to interact with able-bodied peers.

Other challenges extend beyond their physical abilities to involve the community at large. For instance, certain sporting venues may lack accessibility features such as ramps, wheelchair-friendly toilets, or tactile flooring on walkways. Accessibility in terms of the availability and cost of both private and public wheelchair-friendly transport is also a crucial factor.

Finally, there could be a lack of awareness among the general public regarding the variety of inclusive games available for persons with disabilities. While some sporting events such as the Paralympics and ASEAN Para Games are covered extensively in the media, they are often seen as distinct from their mainstream counterparts. People gradually assume that sports are always split into two wholly separate categories – for persons with or without disabilities – when in fact there could be immense potential for inclusion and mutual participation.

Encouraging sports inclusion: Online resources
Recognising the need for greater awareness of sports inclusion, various countries have developed useful online resources catering to the tech-savvy masses. Singapore and Australia, for instance, have created their own guidebooks featuring modified recreational games with a child-centric approach.

School-going children are the main target group for these resources as they tend to be curious and sociable when their environment is comfortable, secure and engaging. These qualities are vital in developing mutual understanding, appreciation and respect from an early age. The games thus serve as an ideal platform for interaction. They are also designed to be played in a typical school setting such as a classroom, field or assembly hall which further encourages bonding and interaction for children with special needs in mainstream schools.

In Singapore, the “Let’s Play Together” guidebook is jointly developed by the Singapore Disability Sports Council and the National Council of Social Service. It provides suggestions on how popular local games such as soccer, badminton and basketball can be modified to suit the needs of persons with disabilities in a local context. The familiarity of these games makes them appealing to most children, while the low costs involved in their modification, such as on the equipment used, ensures that they remain practical and applicable for use.

Produced by the Australian Sports Commission under the Sports Ability programme, the Sports Ability 2 Activity Cards serves as a handy reference for teachers, parents and students alike. The content is similar to its Singapore counterpart’s, although the games featured, such as hockey and cricket, are more suited for their own local preferences. A noteworthy aspect of this guide is the section dedicated to traditional indigenous games, reflecting the deep respect and appreciation that Australians have for their Aboriginal community.

Moving forward
If more resources like the “Let’s Play Together” handbook and the Sports Ability 2 Activity Cards could be developed, it would encourage persons with disabilities to take up sports and promote social inclusion. These resources should also be multilingual, and even in Braille for those with visual impairments.

In addition, traditional kampung games could be modified to relate to locals, as well as to appeal to the older generation. This would allow not only players of varying abilities to bond, but also those across age groups.

Acquainting themselves with these resources will encourage community grassroots organisations and mainstream schools to introduce inclusion games in their regular activities. For starters, inclusive games could be featured as a highlight at grassroots events such as Residents’ Committee block parties, so that residents in the neighbourhood can get to experience playing them first-hand.