More and more people with disabilities in Nigeria are joining various sports programs. It really is incredible, given the great physiological and psychological challenges that naturally come with disabilities.
Truly, we can have disabilities without compromising our deepest talents and ingenuities.
All across the country, there now exist various athletes with disabilities, including Wheelchair Athletes, athletes with Cerebral Palsy, Amputation, Visually Impaired, Intellectual Disabilities, and of course, Deaf sportsmen and sportswomen.
Now, in all of these sensational realities, what exactly is, and maybe consequential?
While people with disabilities are showing strong interest to participate in sporting activities, coaches and spectators alike are struggling with how to successfully include athletes with disabilities. And ordinary people, spectators, and audiences are wondering, and a little mixed about this unusual sporting participation.
Also, perhaps, more consequential of all is health and injury concerns, and medical considerations for athletes with disabilities.
Experts asserted, “Athletes with disabilities are predisposed to medical conditions and have a higher prevalence than that of a non-disabled individual. Understanding these conditions is vital to the proper prevention, care, and return to activity for these athletes.”
Per international best practices, which include ensuring accessibility and inclusion of rights of all people regardless of their station, stature, or disability, coaches and sports administrators want to do the right thing but are probably hampered by limited knowledge about how to include athletes with disabilities and manage their physical and physio-psychological uniqueness.
This is perfectly normal and expected.
As of the time of writing this piece, there are tens of thousands of professional athletes, including Nigerian Paralympians and other sportspersons with disabilities taking part in various sports, including wheelchair racing, wheelchair football and basketball, and track.
Qualified athletes with disabilities have the right to participate on a team to which they are qualified.
Good knowledge about the physiological peculiarities of athletes with disabilities, including the vast anatomical and structural variances that occur with individuals with disabilities can be especially helpful for these brave individuals and for us who wish to include athletes with disabilities in national development.
Classifying Athletes with Disabilities
There are several categories of Paralympic classifications for athletes with disabilities. A few important ones include:
Limb deficiency – This category deals with the loss or absence of body parts such as bones and joints due to congenital reasons, or illness and trauma.
Intellectual impairment – A disability characterized by significant limitation both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills.
Short stature (dwarfism)– This classification is based on decreased height while standing due to abnormalities in bone dimensions of the trunk, upper body, and lower body
Vision impairment – This category is the level of impairment of the athlete’s vision due to trauma or congenital limitations to the eye, visual cortex, or optic pathways.
Inclusion strategies for athletes with disabilities
Here are ways to achieve inclusion and diversity for athletes with a disability
- Embrace the opportunity. Sports leaders and administrators should see including people with disabilities on their teams as beneficial and increasing diversity. This means that rather than worry about ways that the athlete will hurt the team, coaches should explore ways that athletes with disabilities can benefit and gain new experiences. Look at the positives about inclusion. For example, deaf athletes would prefer to have the drills for the day written on a board. This can ease communication and understanding speedily.
- Treat the athlete as an athlete. Disability or no disability, an athlete is an athlete. Deafness or not, a person is a person. It is usually a person first. First and foremost, we are human beings and we should be seen and treated as such. Folks in charge of sports and the spectators should focus on the person instead of the disability. Athletes with a disability want to participate in sports for the same reason as other non-disabled athletes. Sit together and determine their goals for participation, what they want to learn, and strategies for achieving goals. This demonstrates readiness for improvement.
- Provide opportunities for the athlete to be a leader. As you do with your other athletes, coaches should also provide opportunities for the athlete with a disability to be a successful leader. All athletes including those with disabilities can choose one of the drills to do, select the relay team, or lead the cheers to demonstrate their leadership skills. Ask him, “What do you want?”. How would you like this and that? This will demonstrate to your team that you have confidence in the athlete’s leadership skills and also show that all athletes are integral members of the team.
- Collaborate with the athlete to modify sports techniques. Coaches have to adapt drills and activities all the time for athletes who don’t understand the drill, cannot do it correctly, or have to do it differently because of a temporary injury. While, generally, coaches are very creative in coming up with new ideas and they can do this to help the athlete with a disability succeed, it is also okay to ask the athlete the best ways for him/her to be successful. Again, ask them what they want and how they want it.
- Learn accommodations based on the rules of the sport governing body. Most sports have rules or accommodations that have been established for ways to successfully include people with disabilities. For instance, in wheelchair tennis, the ball is allowed to bounce twice before the person has to hit the ball. If you are coaching a tennis team with a player who uses a wheelchair, you could allow them to let the ball hit the ground twice but the other players must hit the ball after just one bounce.
- Have similar expectations. Athletes with disabilities want to be like the other members of the team and coaches should create realistic yet challenging expectations for all of his/her athletes. Coaches want their athletes to improve their skills and succeed and should give the athletes with disabilities the same amount of feedback as the other athletes. Create an equal, enabling environment.
- Seek advice. A little knowledge about your subject can be dangerous. Along with seeking advice from the athlete, coaches can talk to other coaches, teachers, or administrators who have experience in working with athletes with disabilities.