It’s hardly news that even in the most progressive societies, people with disabilities face inequality in sport and physical activity. While, at the same time, 15% of the total world population has some form of limiting disability. That’s between 110 and 190 million people!
Coincidentally, disabled people say that they run twice the risk of being physically inactive, compared to non-disabled people, all because of the many additional hurdles they encounter. Here is a rundown of what these common barriers to participation in sports are and why we must make the effort to break them all together.
1. Psychological barriers
Society perceives a person with some form of disability as someone who is incapable of doing things for themselves. This perception alone has a major negative impact on how successful a prospective disabled athlete may ever become.
That’s why, if an individual is in need of assistance to perform certain daily tasks, to them this may feel like the loss of control and independence. The idea which may be fueled by the fact that many people see disabled people as non-productive members of society. (False!)
Oftentimes, it forces people with disabilities to feel guilty for not being able to perform exactly the same as everyone else, at which point they might even stop asking for help. All because any such request may be seen as an act of weakness. This can lead to lowered self-esteem and even depression. And this a serious barrier, given that we all need confidence to succeed as athletes.
A person with a disability often needs a ride from a family member or a friend to participate in activities outside their homes. This often makes them dependent on a goodwill and availability of their family and friends, and awareness of society around them to respect their vehicle
But, while the problems with transport availability (if there are any) can be overcome, further problems of accessibility still remain. Many buildings, especially older ones, were designed with non-disabled people in mind. And that is the sad truth.
In some countries, even newer buildings have wheelchair ramps which are not built in accordance with accepted standards. It makes disabled people feel unwelcome and may put them off sport altogether.
3. Finding trainers and equipment
Still a very low numberof people take part in sport competitions. Many governments find out that training guide runners for people with visual impairments or a person with enough knowledge to train wheelchair users, for example, can be a complicated and time-consuming task.
And there you have it: there are simply not enough well-trained professionals for people with additional needs.
The same goes for the sports equipment that is adapted for use by athletes with a disability. The lack of such equipment can easily become a barrier to participation, since its cost is often too high and not all families can afford to buy it, and governmental funds are often low to non-existent.
In order to change the very perception about sport for people with disabilities, the topic must receive enough media coverage. Many people prefer to live in an alternate universe where such a thing doesn’t even exist, and the lack of information only nurtures this misconception.
It’s crucial to raise awareness and create role models that can inspire future athletes to achieve their full potential and inspire others to dream big.
It’s true that these days, the Paralympic Games receives a good amount of coverage. Though still not enough, compared to that of the Olympic Games.
Also, the language media uses often leaves much to be desired. For example, newspapers try to hide obvious disabilities when taking photos of the participants or portray disabled athletes as extraordinary heroes as opposed to what they are – just athletes. And sadly in doing so, they contribute to the existing division into ‘us’ and ‘them’.
What’s important to remember?
It is crucial to acknowledge that disabled and non-disabled people go through the same formative stages as athletes and experience much the same challenges throughout their sporting career.
However, additional barriers, such as accessibility issues, equipment, media, coaching, perceptual barriers, and so on, make the experience of people with disabilities much more emotionally draining.
Such barriers or even the prospect of them, can prevent them from engaging in sports or rob them of the opportunity to reach their highest potential.
To make real change happen we all need to stay committed to removing the stereotypes that exist for disabled people in sport and physical activity.
When sport becomes much more inclusive, hopefully more people will become active. And it’s better if this starts early. This means that early on children with disabilities should be included in physical education to the fullest possible extent, as well as they should have equal access to different sporting activities, play and recreation.
Sport is a uniting and transformative tool which can empower people with disabilities, give them an opportunity to embrace new skills, social networking, and leadership experience.
Equal sports-based opportunities in a more open-minded society will help remove stigma and boost confidence of so many people around the world. And that’s something worth looking forward to.
Verv believes in a healthier lifestyle for everyone. That's why we created our Verv Giving program. And though it's a drop in the ocean, it's a way for us to all work together to build a more equal future in the world of health and wellbeing.