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“The Barriers Are There But They Are Really Easily Overcome”


“For people with disabilities, the social aspect of sport and physical activity is huge, they’re meeting people with similar interests and experiences. It increases the quality of their life, they can be as independent as possible. They feel part of a community”, explains Odhran Doherty, the Cara Centre’s National Sport Inclusion Coordinator. 

“There’s a real correlation between sport and employment for people with disabilities as well. Research would show that people with disabilities are less likely to be employed than their peers but if they’re involved with sport and physical activity, they’re more likely to be employed.” 

Through the work of the Cara Centre, Sport Ireland and the invaluable Local Sports Partnerships, sport and an active lifestyle can now be a realistic part of life for people with disabilities all over the country. 

While Cara has been spreading the message of inclusion in sport and working with governing bodies and sporting organisations to achieve that goal, at a community level, Local Sports Partnerships have been engaging with people with disabilities to introduce them to the opportunities available and their work is only continuing to grow.

“We’re in a good place in Ireland that for the first time ever, there’s a Sport Inclusion Disability Officer at each of the Local Sports Partnerships across the country.

“So those guys are working at a local level to engage with people with disabilities and provide opportunities for them in sport and physical activity. They can be the local resource for people, a support for them and they can also provide education opportunities for coaches and schools. 

“Without their presence on the ground, that inclusion at a local level would be really difficult. The fact that there’s one in every county now means that anyone with a disability in Ireland has a good opportunity to be involved in sport and physical activity. 

“The targets for the Local Sports Partnerships are people who may not engage in sport and physical activity or may find it difficult to do so, for example, older people or some ethnic minorities. The Sports Partnerships are crucial in creating that love for sport at a young age and sustaining that because participation in sport from people with disabilities is right from a young age right up until the end of their life, there’s so many possibilities out there and the vehicle for that is the Local Sports Partnerships.”

Cara’s ‘I’m In Too’ initiative has proven through case studies just how important the message of inclusion is and the difference that sport and physical activity can make in the lives of people with disabilities, as well as in the lives of their family and wider support network.

As Doherty outlines, being inclusive doesn’t have to mean major changes or investment, often it quite simply boils down to awareness.

“Inclusion happens all the time subconsciously, people are inclusive by nature. Irish people are quite kind and there’s a really good community spirit between us. The barriers are there but they are really easily overcome with small changes. 

“It doesn’t require a lot of investment it just requires some creative thinking and more awareness around the issues. We’ve seen great examples of it through our Sport Inclusion Disability Charter where clubs and organisations have signed up to the charter and have taken steps to remove the barriers and to increase the opportunities for people with disabilities and ensure it’s a positive experience for them. People with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. 

“The joy of the level of inclusion around Ireland is that you’re thinking to yourself that there’s a really good chance that if I had a disability in any part of Ireland and I had an interest in sport and physical activity, there would be an opportunity within a short distance of my home, regardless of what impairment I have and I think that’s really exciting, I think that’s a really great platform for the next number of years across all aspects of inclusion, not just sport.”

While a sporty lifestyle or major physical activity is not for everyone, For some people with disabilities, their lack of participation may be because they are unaware of the opportunities and experiences that are available to them in their area.

The Sport Inclusion Disability Officers are there to remove as many barriers as possible for people with disabilities who want to get involved with sport and Doherty explains that they should be the first point of contact. 

“They should make contact with their Sport Inclusion Disability Officer in whatever area they live, they advertise programmes on a various degree of platforms like social media and their Local Sports Partnership website. They also engage quite closely with schools with disability services and the different disability groups in the county. So just contact them to find out more. 

“They just have to be confident to reach out to people as well, the Sport Inclusion Disability Officers are really knowledgeable people, they’re very good communicators and they would certainly welcome the opportunity to speak to someone with disabilities about what activities and sports they would be interested in.”

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Author: Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter