Lifting the lid on disability can open the eyes of all coaches

Lifting the lid on disability can open the eyes of all coaches

The Blind Tennis World Championships were held in Dublin.

LIFE is like a box of chocolates. We all know that famous line said in the way only movie character Forest Gump could.

These days I prefer the reference “life is like a box of crayons, some sharp, some pretty, some dull, some bright but they all have learned to live together in the same box”. Inclusion!

April is Autism awareness month.

I’ve discovered that awareness needs to run alongside acceptance and inclusion. Lifting the lid on disability in sport has enlightened me to the number of resources that are available in Ireland and the large number of sports that are on offer for players with disabilities.

From badminton, basketball and soccer right down to golf, tennis and canoeing, pathways for inclusion for players with a disability have been paved.

With participation from many sports, Team Ireland looks set to send 16 players covering 6 different sports to the Paralympic Games due to take place in Tokyo later this year and with numbers and interest steadily building the next Special Olympics should see Ireland’s flag being waved high but disability sports still need more exposure!

Mark Claffey, an Olympic Golf Gold medalist 2019, said: “I love being included in playing sports, I make friends and it’s good for my health.”

Olympic Golf Gold medalist,2019, Mark Claffey. Jo-Anne Williamson inclusion feature
Olympic Golf Gold medalist,2019, Mark Claffey. Jo-Anne Williamson inclusion feature

The last five years have seen huge progression with the delivery of sports sessions to players with Autism, intellectual and physical disabilities, wheelchair players, and those who are visually impaired, amongst others.

With funding coming from the Department of Sport, through sports capital grants, Sports Inclusion Disability program and dormant accounts, clubs around Ireland have stepped up and embraced breaking down the barriers to participation for people with a disability.

Almost 1,200 organisations and 800 clubs have now adopted the 2018 Sports Inclusion Disability Charter from CARA and are working towards embedding their 5 key areas including activities and facilities.

When we think of the word inclusion I’m not sure how many of us feel that it affects our everyday lives but imagine being the wheelchair user or the blind person looking to involve themselves in sport but not having the avenue to do so?

There’s a sport for everyone no matter who!

The FAI Football For All program incorporates a whopping 3,800 players including amputee, blind and wheelchair players. A huge programme running nationwide!

Tennis Ireland jumped on board developing the Enjoy Tennis program a few years ago.

Munster Regional Development Officer Liz Clifford said: “I don’t think inclusion can be approached in a one-size-fits-all. If we work with the people to be included, they can teach us what inclusion means to them and how we can achieve it.”

Munster Regional Development Officer Liz Clifford.
Munster Regional Development Officer Liz Clifford.

The Enjoy Tennis program moved online during lockdown including sessions for the visually impaired.

From the 1,200 players involved almost 700 are players with Autism or an Intellectual disability.

“Having an open-door policy inviting players to belong to a structured setting and for them to feel welcomed in a club environment has a huge impact especially for people living in assisted accommodation like Cope,” says Tennis Ireland’s Liam O Donoghue.

“A few years ago we reached out to clubs to support the program, out of 81 clubs 80 got involved but we’ve still a way to go with 200 clubs nationwide and 15% of the population having some kind of disability we must keep pushing forwards for inclusion in sport.”

Our national culture is community-based and so society is naturally more inclusive but with fear or a lack of confidence from the coach/volunteer being a factor, that seems to stop people from signing up to sports inclusion programs.

Attitudes need to change! Online training courses run by LSPs, CARA and others are helping education.

Coach Jo-Anne Williamson trying her hand at wheelchair tennis.
Coach Jo-Anne Williamson trying her hand at wheelchair tennis.

They have become fundamental in supporting coaches in being able to create an environment and experience for people with disabilities that is inclusive and empowers the person to reach their potential.

It is important to note that coach/volunteer education plays a key role in the development of the players and the success of the program.

Having attended several sports inclusion workshops recently has helped in growing my own understanding and I welcome the new challenges of working with players with disabilities.

Along with a new Visually Impaired program ready to be rolled out in the coming months and additional Intellectual Disability sessions on the cards, I look forward to working with the RDO and building the numbers of players involved.

That’s where Cork clubs need to row in behind to support sports inclusion.

As clubs reopen, it’s vital that these programs continue to grow, as often the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply include them.

Remember, diversity is having a place at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice being heard!

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