Disability Sports

Essays on Sports

The role that sports play in the lives of people with disabilities can be very vital and important to their well-being. Through the growth of our society and scientific innovation disability athletics are becoming more and more accessible every day. However, there is still ample room for improvement in Canada’s laws and the average person’s outlook and responses concerning disability sport. Each of us can educate ourselves and strive to be celebratory and supportive of athletes with disabilities, whether it is a peer in our physical education class or an amazing athlete striving to compete in the Olympics.

The revolution of athletics in the lives of people with disabilities began as a mean of rehabilitation and a way to get amputees integrated back into society. From this point, disability sports have grown and continued to help people with disabilities be seen by humanity as strong, abundant individuals and be seen on equal grounds as those without disabilities. Adaptable and therapeutic sports continue to aid people living with disabilities today by helping them gain physical, mental and emotional strength.

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The part that technological advancements have played in the world of disability sports is very significant as well. The existence of highly developed prosthetic limbs, eyes and wheelchairs has proven to be a beneficial advancement to athletes who have disabilities. However, the controversies concerning the pressures for people with disabilities to use personal equipment to change themselves, or make them more like the general population is still in strong speculation in the field of disability sports.

I believe that one should have tools available to help them live the way that they choose and preform activities to their highest ability, although I am a strong believer that no one should be pressured to fit into the mold that society impresses upon them. The benefits that come from participation in sports and the practice of physical activity are well recognized in the lives of youth all over the world. Sports and athletics benefit children physically by introducing them to the healthy practice of exercise and fitness.

Sports are also proven to benefit people, especially children mentally and emotionally. The sense of belonging to a team or an organized athletic group provides children with a unique sort of confidence, independence and feeling of acceptance. Federal laws exist in the United States to ensure that children living with disabilities are provided the same opportunity and right to participate in physical education classes in elementary and secondary schools as children without disabilities.

This specific kind of law does not exist in Canada. According to my research, laws exist in Canada to ensure “free and appropriate education for all youth,” which includes youth that are living with disabilities. However, there is not a specific law in place that refers to physical education for children with disabilities. To add to this, the definition of an “appropriate education” can often be varyingly interpreted, especially in the case of children with disabilities. (Health analysis and measurement group, 2009, para.

1) Despite the existence of these federal laws, many people worry that children living with special needs often do not receive the same type of opportunity at physical education and sports as their peers. Many coaches are not correctly trained at how to include and encourage children with disabilities to succeed in sports. Quite often the peers and teammates of children with disabilities do not provide them with equal opportunities if these classmates are not well educated on that specific peer’s condition and abilities.

The children without disabilities may be unsure if their classmate is able to catch a ball without being hurt, or confident enough make a pass without losing the ball to the other team. I can only imagine that these hints of exclusion and detachedness would have a negative effect on the children with disabilities’ outlook on physical education and sports. These feelings of neglection seem to be confirmed by a youthful group of students living with both physical and mental disabilities who were interviewed by Blind and McCallister and quoted in Hayley Fitzgerald’s book “Disability and Youth Sport.

”When asked how involved these students felt in their physical education classes and extra-curricular sports, the responses seemed to entail the following themes: Many students claimed that they were usually offered limited roles of participation in games and sports. Quite a few students also admitted that they felt negative emotional responses when questioned about sports as a result of this limited participation.

A few quotes from these students include “I’d sit up on the stage from when I first got there until the end of class every day,” “I’m usually a cheerleader for my classmates,” and “sometimes the teacher makes me a physical boundary marker, such as my wheelchair replacing a pylon. ” Also, some quotes that are referring to classmates consist of, “I always feel different” and “they just don’t ask me to play. ”

(Hayley Fitzgerald, 2009, p. 55) The teachers of these students claim that they had to offer these limited roles to the students because they were concerned for their safety, teacher liability, or because they were unable to think of a better way to incorporate them.

I believe that these quotes from both the teachers and children living with disabilities prove my opinion that all parties should be more educated. The teachers and coaches should receive training in their studies in order to learn how to incorporate all types of children into the games and sports played in gym class. Additionally, teachers should be educated on the details of a student’s condition prior to having a child with disabilities in their class so that the teacher is well aware of what is safe and expected of their student’s abilities.

The teacher’s should then educate their classes in order to ensure that the child with a disability can feel accepted and included and participate in physical education to their full potential. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. ” ( James Baldwin, Disabled World News 2009. ) Although it may seem easy for one to criticize the acceptance and involvement of people living with disabilities in sports and athletics today, it is important to note that there has been a great improvement in the area of disability sport in the last 45 years.

Around the time of the Second World War, the participation of people with disabilities in athletics was almost unheard of. The modern movement and sense of support of sports for people with disabilities is thought to have been largely initiated by Sir Ludwig Guttman. Guttman was a neurologist who used sports activities in the rehabilitation of war veterans returning home from the Second World War with spinal cord injuries. Guttman organized competitions and tournaments for the war veterans at his hospital. Gradually these games spread to other hospitals and eventually became international.

Those participating in the competitions became recognized as athletes rather than as patients. (Wjgil Jespersen, p. 3) I think that that statement; “Recognized as athletes rather than as patients,” is exceptionally significant. Very often people with both physical and mental disabilities are stereotyped to being unable to perform skills and talents such as playing sports or holding a prestigious job. However this stereotype is far from the truth, and I think that it is very important that nobody is dehumanized due to their adverse abilities.

The original reason that sports were introduced to people with disabilities (physical disabilities in particular) was not only so that they could learn how to move and do things with their new impairments, but also to provide them with a method to socially interact in ways that they may have expected that they would no longer be able to. Guttman wanted to get these people out and integrated into the society and prove that they should continue to be proud of their lives and abilities. As disability sports continued to gain respect and popularity, they became a vital part of the lives of many athletes that had disabilities.

The competitive edge that has always existed in the world of sports began to transfer into disability sports as well. Sports became a way to enable people living with new impairments to realize that they were not as different as they may have thought. The feelings of community, competitiveness and team spirit that are surfaced through being involved with sports filled gaps in the lives of many people with disabilities. Today, sports such as horse-back riding can be used as a sort of therapy for people living with not only physical disabilities, but cognitive and emotional disabilities as well.

Horse-back riding is often taught to people with cognitive and emotional disabilities to provide them with a skill and talent that they can be proud of and spend time practicing. A sport such as horseback riding also teaches people about the importance of responsibility, leadership and confidence. Additionally, the rewarding relationship and companionship that one can form with an animal can transfer into social aspects of someone’s life who may struggle in that area, especially if they have cognitive disabilities.

Many children and adults who participate in therapeutic riding, especially children with autism and down syndrome, also gain educational knowledge from the sport therapy. They preform different activities and courses in order to increase fluid hand-eye coordination, direction taking, focus, and balance. Many children with disabilities who take part in therapeutic horse-back riding distinctly show their enjoyment during the activity. Also, their progress and benefits of riding can be seen by an increase in communication, companionship with their horses and instructors, and overall happiness in day to day life.

Along with the increase in societal acceptance and support of disability sports in the last 45 years or so, technology has also played a large role in launching the new movement of disability sports. Scientists and engineers have made advancements such as smaller, lighter and more mobile wheelchairs and specialized, durable and comfortable prosthetics. Modern prosthetics are custom built to the specifications of the user’s body. Prosthetics can be perceived as a way to raise the quality of life of someone who uses a wheelchair, in the case that they wish to go places or do things that are not manageable by the means a wheelchair.

When it comes to sports, prosthetics can allow their user to be just as accepted as players without disabilities. Although wheelchair sports (adaptive sports) are existent, complications arise when it comes to regular competitive sports. The use of a wheelchair may cause the player with disabilities to be unable to perform certain movements or unable to correctly follow the rules of the sport. Scientific innovation has definitely come a long way in providing driven and passionate athletes, who may be wheel chair users or have a prosthetic leg, the tools that they need to compete where they desire and at their highest potential.

In some cases these types of modern sporting equipment can even be thought to be “super-human. ” In the case of a man named Oscar Pistorius, there was a large amount of controversy over his being allowed to compete in the Olympics due to his prosthetic legs or “blades. ” Prosthetics can be perceived as a type of performance-enhancement. Some people thought that Oscar Pistorius’ prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage; others said that his impairment made him simply ineligible for the Olympics. This issue illustrated the truth that people living with impairments and using personal equipment often do not fit the definition of disabled.

In this case, the argument was actually that someone like Pistorius is too-abled! None the less, I find it disheartening that so many people used Pistorius’ impairment, and the wonderful invention of the blades as an excuse to try to exclude him from the Olympics. “As well as overcoming considerable levels of prejudice and disadvantage due to his disability, Oscar Pistorius is as dedicated and trains as hard as any top athlete. The blades are mere means that make it possible for him to manifest his athletic prowess in his chosen events; they compensate for his lack of legs. ” (Ejgil Jespersen and Mike Mcnamee, 2009, pg.

28.) As this statement elucidates; what is most important is Pistorius’ athletic ability, not his physical composition. In the end, Pistorius qualified for men’s 400 meter race, and he was the first “par-Olympian” to race in the regular Olympics. The idea of creating these super, efficient and durable fake limbs and eyes can be viewed from a negative angle as well. Although this scientific innovation has proven beneficial to many people with disabilities, humanization is always a slippery slope. People with disabilities should not have to deal with any pressures from society to fit the “normal” mold.

So often science and the creators of prosthetic limbs strive to try to make people living without certain limbs look “normal;” the same as everyone else. However, who is to say that the shape and construction of one person’s body is the best? As my teacher Mr. Gregor Wolbring once expressed during a lecture: maybe someone who has lived there entire life using a wheel chair does not want to feel pressured to learn how to walk like you do. In the case of sports, it is understandable that someone like Pistorius would want artificial legs that allow him to compete under the same circumstances and in the same event as people with full legs.

If science and prosthetics are seen as a means of providing people with disabilities with equal opportunities then I believe that the option of new and high-tech artificial limbs and tools are a great invention for those who choose to use them. As Aimee Mullins said “a prosthetic limb doesn’t represent the need to represent loss anymore. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to create whatever they want to create in that space. ”(TEDtalks, 2009. ) It is important that the wearer uses technology to provide themselves with the ability to do what they want to do, not simply the ability to do what everyone around them is doing.

For the most important thing is that everyone, disabled or not, is able to see their own strengths and beauties without artificial enhancement. Sports and athletics in the lives of people living with disabilities will continue to be an important and effective way for them to integrate into the society make a mark on civilization. Disability athletics, therapeutic sports, adaptive sports and the inclusion in regular sports have proven to provide people with disabilities with happiness, confidence, and independence.

Doors have begun to be opened in the field disability sport and they will carry on being opened due to political and cultural pressures. Undoubtedly these doors have not been opened without resistance, but none the less, disability athletics are surely becoming a bigger part of our world, and rightfully so. The education of the common population on impairments and adverse abilities, along with technology and the moral growth of our society, are allowing athletes with disabilities to succeed in the world of sports and reach their full potential on the court, field or track.