Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

Disability Sport – is it for everyone?

goalball copy

When I was at primary school was the first taste I had P.E. classes. I was very lucky because for some P.E. lessons, I had a specialist sports teacher to help me have better access to the sport the class were playing. For example, we’d use a ball which was brightly coloured and had a large bell in for when we played football so that I could see it better, and when we played table tennis, I would play a different version of the game where the goal was removed and you had to use a different bat to push the ball really fast across the table. If the ball fell off the end the other person was playing at, I got a point. 

In secondary school my experience was mostly a good one too. Again I was very lucky and I had a specialist sports teaching assistant to help me to access P.E. classes. This was better than primary school because she was in every lesson with me and that helped a lot.

I did a lot of running at school and really enjoyed it, helped a lot by my P.E. teacher. I even completed the mini marathon three times and my teacher trained me so that I’d be ready for the race. We ran by using a skipping rope tied around our wrists so that we were connected, and he could tell me which way to go. I was very lucky with the school that I went to in that it was a very inclusive environment so I loved being there and playing sport where I could. 

We also played specific disability sports at secondary school – my vision impairment teacher set up a goalball club because there were a few of us at school who were visually impaired, so I learned to play goalball there too. I still love watching it now! 

The Not So Good! 

There aren’t many bad things that I can say about my own access to sport. However, there are a few things that weren’t, and still aren’t, so great. At primary and secondary school everyone knew that I wasn’t very good at sport, so when teachers would ask us to pair up or get into teams, I was always the very last to be picked. This didn’t have a huge effect on me longterm, but short term it didn’t make me feel very good! This also got me thinking that I am lucky in that my visual impairment is the only issue – it makes sport a bit harder but I can still partake in most elements of it, if not very well. I think more needs to be done to include children who have mobility impairments or learning difficulties because often they are left on the sidelines.

My friend who has cerebral palsy has told me about this before. She is a wheelchair user (she uses a powered wheelchair) and so a lot of the sports that she did at school were not accessible at all, or very difficult to adapt to her needs so that she could play them. Having said this though, the ones that she could play, she always did and enjoyed. 

Another thing I used to find annoying was that I’d access a sport just enough to be able to try playing it – but I would get bored because I was unable to play against anyone. For example, in secondary school we had to play badminton as a class in pairs. But because I could never see the shuttlecock coming towards me, there was no point me playing in a pair, so I just practiced serving on my own – for two whole hours! This could get  very boring at certain points, but I guess no one was sure how to make it more accessible or appealing. I had a bright yellow shuttlecock which helped, but I was still just standing there making serves to the wall! 

I understand the dilemma for teachers – do they find a sport that everyone can play or do they go with the majority and let the one or so children with a disability miss out? I think it would be nice if there were sports on the curriculum that everyone could play, but I also understand the need to include able bodied sports too. Maybe an alternate weeks arrangement could work? I’m not sure though. 

How I Access Sport Now 

The truth of the matter is – I don’t! There is a goalball club at my University which I’d love to be involved in, but it’s at a time that I can’t make because of my classes! My running stopped because I left my secondary school years ago (although I still go running around campus for fun with an iPod in my ears!). The trouble is that all of the sports-accessible clubs I’ve heard about are often miles away from where I live, making it difficult for me to get myself to and from them – and therefore to access them which is surely the whole point! I still love watching sport but it seems that as you get older, playing it with a disability only becomes trickier. 

I access sport on the TV sometimes although unless it’s audio described or the commentary is particularly good, even this can get frustrating. My family and I love football (I’m an avid Spurs supporter!) but the one time I went to a game, the atmosphere was great but someone would have to tell me whenever we scored so the suspense was completely lost! Also, I don’t really like crowds and I have a bit of a fear of loud noises so the live matches (in any sport!) themselves aren’t the best environment for me. I like watching sport on TV or, even better,  listening to the radio and texting my friends about the game. But my favourite way to enjoy it is to go to  the local pub with my mates and have a pint! Bliss. 

Changes – What would make it better? 

I’ve already mentioned that I was very lucky in that I went to two very inclusive mainstream schools where I was encouraged to take part as much as possible. I know that for some people, like my friend, sport can be almost impossible to access unless it’s disability tailored – my friend does play boccia which is accessible to her but in terms of playing with able-bodied people, a lot of the time she was not able to. I think there needs to be more training for P.E. teachers in schools so that they know how to include people with disabilities more. I also think that teachers should choose teams rather than getting the students to pick them all the time – this avoids anyone being left out or feeling isolated from the group. 

It would also be good if there were more disability-accessible sports clubs for disabled adults. A lot of the services I’ve seen advertised are either for young people or just too far away to be accessible at all – which completely defeats the point of it being there in the first place! With events like the Paralympics being broadcast on TV, this will have undoubtedly helped sport become even more accessible since I was at school. However, personally, I think there’s still a little bit more to be done before disabled people can say they can play on a level pegging with their able bodied peers. 

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