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For youth with disabilities integrated sports activities can by a key to community participation. Yet most of the organized sports activities by youth organisations and schools are segregated services or are provided for groups of people who enter community settings but who, as individuals, never become integrated into these settings.

Youth with disabilities are only half as likely to play sport on a regular basis as those without disabilities (SENMAGAZINE, UK). In addition, youth with disabilities tend to have lower levels of fitness and higher rates of obesity than their non-disabled peers. Stereotypes, attitudes, assumptions and perceptions often combine to create a stigma around people with disabilities. These barriers to sports participation can cause a disabled person to see him-/herself as less worthy.

Barriers that contribute to low levels of participation in physical activity and sport by youth with disabilities include the following: poor physical education provision in schools and youth organisations; negative school experiences; low expectations from sport and physical education teachers, families and peers; lack of knowledge of what is available; lack of information and expertise; poor community facilities and lack of access to facilities and programmes; ad hoc structures and approaches; lack of experience of the benefits of physical activity; untrained staff and lack of accessible facilities; lack of companions who can facilitate/assist people with disabilities to access facilities and programmes when required; inadequate coaching.

Perhaps the major barrier to the participation of youth with disabilities in sports activities and organizations is attitudinal. The attitude of providers, parents and the general public is that such participation is impossible or not worth the trouble.

Significant findings in literature furthermore suggest that the disability type and level of support needs are important considerations in the participation and non-participation patterns of people with disabilities in sports activities at school or in their youth organisation (if they are a member at all). Certainly, any person with high support needs has significant constraints to participation. The individuals’ circumstances need to be clearly understood in formulating adequate responses. For example, approximately two-thirds of youth with disabilities are born with their disability (congenital), while about one-third of youth acquire their disability through some type of trauma. Both of these groups of youth have very different life experiences.

Barriers for grassroot sports teachers

Growing number of students with disabilities are being included in general education and participate in youth organisations as well, resulting in more and more physical education teachers/trainers being faced with the reality of teaching these youth together with the rest of the children, without having the necessary knowledge how to organise inclusive sports activities. This is at the core of ST4ALL project and has been the motivator to establish the consortium and prepare the proposal.

Positive aspects of sports for youth (with disabilities)

Sports participation helps develop a healthy self-concept, builds confidence, and improves the overall quality of life. Sports also provide youth with disabilities with valuable social interactions, both with other disabled individuals, as well as their non-disabled peers.

If the constraints that are faced were to be removed, then those who are affected by these constraints may either participate more or begin to participate, as they have been deterred from participation in the past. The benefits such (adaptive) sports activities can offer to youth with disabilities are the following:

  • social and cultural benefits, especially for those with no or low levels of support needs.
  • those with high support needs have the most idiosyncratic benefits of sports and active recreation participation — excitement and adventure.
  • people who are engaged in social activities and citizenship generally are much more connected to community and enjoy a better quality of life.
  • the therapeutic aspect of grassroot sports involvement of youth with disabilities is direct, as participants gain core strength, confidence, self-esteem and self-determination; it helps people overcome obstacles, achieve goals and learn life skills; and it provides an incredible boost to the morale and psyche of participants.

Studies also show that adaptive sports provide numerous benefits including:

  • less stress;
  • more independence;
  • higher achievement in education and employment;
  • reduced dependency on pain and depression medication;
  • fewer secondary medical conditions (i.e., diabetes, hypertension).

Need for training towards inclusive grassroot sports and physical education at school and in youth organisations

The opportunity for sports participation in special education, inclusive (mainstream) schools and youth organisations among youth with disabilities is paramount and will benefit future generations. For anyone who works with disabled individuals, a dedicated training is needed so that they can match the needs of the youth with disabilities with relevant and therapeutically justifiable sports. This is especially the case for sports trainers at special education / inclusive schools and youth organisations as outlined above.

With the participation of youth with disabilities in regular schools and youth organisations, this is increasingly become a core element to ensure sports participation for this youth is fruitful, and contributes to their inclusion into society.

Start: 1 January 2018

Duration: 30 months

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