Sport is an important social dimension to demonstrate genuine inclusion for persons with disabilities.
According to the United Nations Enable: “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first legally binding international instrument to address the rights of persons with disabilities and sport".
Article 30 of the Convention addresses both mainstream and disability-specific sport and stipulates that: “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 calls upon governments, States party to the Convention, to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sport and recreational venues — as spectators and as active participants. This also requires that children with disabilities be included in physical education within the school system “to the fullest extent possible” and enjoy equal access to "play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities”. (www.un.ord/disabilities/default.asp?id=1563)
McCree (2015) in a presentation “Sport and disability in T&T: An exploratory study,” at a conference hosted by the Network and Outreach for Disability Education and Sensitisation (NODES) and the Disability Studies Unit, UWI (University of the West Indies) pointed out several challenges facing Differently Abled Athletes (DIAA's).
Mc Cree stated that DIAA's use sport as a means of challenging the dominance of the able-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. Therefore, DIAA's require equity in access to all resources and the manner in which they are treated.
However, persons with disabilities are faced with major challenges. 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. One of the 15 individual objectives of the national sports policy 2017-2027 is the “Upgrade and implement provisions for the aged and differently-abled individuals at all sports facilities”. Achieving this objective will not only be beneficial to athletes/administrators but also position the country to host international athletes and events. As such it can create an opportunity toward boosting the sport tourism industry.
2 - Funding - It is important that DIAA’s are afforded an equal opportunity to funding as able-bodied athletes. Both the state and the private sector have an important role to play in ensuring that DIAA’s have the resources to excel in their respective fields especially as the country benefits from their accomplishments. Lack of funding can negatively impact the overall development of not only athletes but also coaches, administrators and other key technical human resource areas.
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 (2015) made several recommendations toward addressing issues related to DIAA’s:
· A public education campaign to sensitise the general public about persons with disabilities
· Including a course on DIAA’s as part of the Disability syllabus at the UWI. This can also be further encompassed in programmes at UWI Faculty of Sport and Open Campus Academy of Sport.
· Developing a separate sport policy for persons with disabilities. This may be necessary to be able to address all the integrated structural challenges that can be easily overlooked or trivialised if treated as part of a policy that is geared primarily for able-bodied athletes and administrators.
· The hosting of a conference on Sport and Disability where international scholars can speak on current research. Such a conference can assist technocrats and other administrators in ensuring that all policies and practices are inclusive and not bias against DIAA’s.
The national sports policy 2017-2027 promotion of the development of sport for DIAAs is in keeping the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDGs). The post-COVID-19 period will require sporting administrators to work with the state and the private sector to ensure that DIAA’s are all part of the inclusive development of all persons in T&T regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexuality and being differently-abled.