Openness and understanding, training for staff and volunteers, developing inclusive activities, adequate facilities, and promotion. They are the five elements that people with disabilities are asking sporting organisations to keep in mind when they are considering inclusiveness for all.
They are all the five principles upon which the Sport Inclusion Disability Charter is based upon, created by Cara, a national pan-disability sports organisation providing a collaborative and partnership platform to increase sport and physical activity opportunities for people with disabilities across Ireland.
Through the support of the Local Sports Partnerships, Cara conducted focus groups with people with disabilities, both who are active and inactive, and asked about their experiences, challenges and needs in relation to their participation in sport and physical activity.
The charter that came about as a result of those discussions, is the bedrock of what Cara is trying to achieve, according to CEO Niamh Daffy.
“In the development of our strategy, we put a particular focus on reviewing the type of organisation that we are and how we can best provide support across the sectors; sport, fitness, education, outdoor and health, to be inclusive in their approach. But we believed there was a gap in terms of how we can engage with and provide more support to people with disabilities directly?
“The charter grew out of an initiative called ‘I’m In Too’ and this is an ongoing initiative aimed at connecting with people with disabilities and sharing their experiences, challenges and needs in participating in sport and physical activity. Such engagement through the focus groups allowed for greater understanding of what needs to happen for people with disabilities to be effectively included in sport and physical activity opportunities”.
Outlining what people with disabilities want from sport and physical activity organisations is only step one on the ladder to full inclusiveness. For such organisations to turn the vision into a reality, they need support, training, education, and funding. As a result, Cara have developed an Xccessible Toolkit whereby these bodies can work towards their goal in manageable phases and through a supportive process.
“The Xcessible Toolkit is funded by Sport Ireland through the Dormant Accounts Funding Programme. This toolkit provides support to organisations who adopt the Charter, commit to implementing the gfive principles across their organisation and then work through a stage journey of inclusion. At the minute we’re developing and piloting the bronze phase of the Xccessible toolkit which is allowing a National Governing Body or Local Sports Partnership work through key objectives that are focused on the five principles of the charter.
"Access to sport and physical activity must be a right for everyone and not just a privilege for the few."
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) June 30, 2020
“And ideally, many years down the road, a lot of organisations will have moved through that journey of inclusion into the silver and the gold stage and ultimately during this process we will continue to see an increase in participation opportunities for people with disabilities across a range of sport and physical activities nationwide”.
The gradual return of sport and physical activity has been a welcome relief to all around the country. Whether it is returning to fitness classes or training, the pinch of Covid-19 on the sporting world is being gradually released. For sporting centres and organisations, it means a lot of planning and adjustments to make their areas and services as safe and as cautious as possible for all their users.
Cara too has been busy advising such organisations on how to keep in mind the needs and interests of people with disabilities during this unfamiliar time and Daffy is urging all organisations to keep in mind all of their users, when undertaking such work.
“The safe return to sport and physical activity for people with disabilities has been embedded within many discussions of the Return to Sport Expert Review Group of which Cara represents the Disability Sport Sector and this message of inclusion is very evident in all guidance documents shared from Sport Ireland.
“Cara, in conjunction with Sport Ireland, is currently finalising key guiding recommendations for the sport and fitness sectors as they gradually reopen their sports and activities. These guidelines will provide support to the sector to ensure access to sport and physical activity is considered as they open their doors/sport to the community.
“That could simply be, if they’re putting up signage in relation to Covid-19 or changing the space within a leisure centre, that they are considering the access and communication need of people with disabilities at that point as well.”
“For me, the big message for all organisations across the sports sector is, as they’re planning their return, to plan for everybody.
“For some individuals with disabilities who may have underlying medical conditions, it may take a bit longer to get back into their routine of participating in sport and physical activity. But there’s been a lot of programmes put online which people with disabilities can connect with during this period as well. Many organisations have provided a range of resources, online classes and supports to ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to remain or to get active at home during Covid. Cara as part of our Physical Activity Education Programme for people with disabilities has also developed a range of home exercise activity cards for people to connect with during this period”.
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) June 29, 2020
Cara’s main vision is to “put disability sport and inclusive physical activity at the heart of our nation“, ie. to make inclusiveness in sport and physical activity the new norm. As Chair Jon Morgan outlined, “access to sport and physical activity must be a right for everyone and not just a privilege for the few”.
By putting together the Sport Inclusion Disability Charter and following that with practical applications with the Xcessible Toolkit, Cara is slowly but surely working its way towards that ultimate goal in conjunction with national governing bodies, local partnerships and a vast array of organisations across the sport, health, education, outdoor and fitness sectors.
While a huge amount of satisfaction is taken from every achievement, Daffy maintains that the real achievement will be the message of inclusiveness spread throughout every sporting community around the country.
“The work that we do is very satisfying, we have a small team in Cara, with a number of staff based in the Kerry Sports Academy at IT Tralee and in Sports HQ in the National Sports Campus. The passion, enthusiasm and commitment portrayed from the team as they work through the delivery of their programmes is remarkable.
“The success for us is really to see the sports sector taking on that same energy and that same commitment. This positive culture change in really evident across a number of national sporting bodies, definitely evident across the local sports partnerships through the employment of sport inclusion disability officers and most recently we can now see it starting to filter into the disability sector”.
“Ultimately for Cara, if we can get that message of the importance of sport and physical activity for people with disabilities across all sectors in Ireland, right from government level down to the local organisations, then we know that we are on track to achieving a vision of putting disability sport and inclusive physical activity at the heart of the nation’.