There are barriers and discrimination that people who are disabled face, excluding them from partaking in regular, everyday activities. Sports can help minimize these stigmas by demonstrating that individuals who are disabled can play sports, and their disability doesn’t hinder them from doing so.
Athletic pursuits present opportunities for inclusive spaces or a community where everyone gets an exhilarated feeling while having fun and competing with others. Sports have numerous positive effects — physical, psychological, social, and the elimination of barriers — that benefit people who are cognitively and physically disabled.
The sports industry should aim to create a safe and supportive environment where anyone can engage regardless of whether they are disabled or not. Society should not block people who are disabled from being physically active.
A more obvious benefit is that sports improve physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity reduces the chance of being susceptible to many future health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and colon cancer. Particularly, anyone with arthritis — a chronic disease that can lead to a disability — will find that playing sports helps in controlling joint pain and swelling.
Individuals with chronic and disabling physical conditions can also greatly benefit from being physically active as it improves muscle strength and stamina.
Not only do sports have physical benefits, but they also have psychological ones, promoting the mental health of people who are disabled. The United Nations noted that by participating in sports, individuals who have disabilities become empowered and more independent.
Their mental health drastically improves as being physically active fosters a positive mood as well as reduces mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. On that note, stress levels also decrease and the desire to live healthily substantially increases. Overall, the well-being and mental state of people who are disabled becomes much stronger with sports.
One of the most important social benefits that sports bring is inclusion. Often, individuals who are disabled feel excluded from the rest of the world. However teamwork and personal development, two cornerstones of athletic pursuit, foster inclusion as they show others that their disabilities do not affect their capability to play a sport.
Furthermore, interpersonal relationships with friends and family may improve in light of an athletic pursuit if the person with a disability feels disconnected or misunderstood because of it. Through a common framework and the cooperative language of sport, better communication can be fostered between those who are disabled and their confidants or close relatives.
Many children and adults who are disabled face barriers, including their own fear and preconceived negative attitudes from others, preventing them from engaging in some sort of physical activity.
This is why it’s important for there to be representation of people who are disabled in sport: people who are disabled who play sports change the attitudes and assumptions of people who are not disabled.
Specifically, women who are disabled face more barriers and discrimination than men who are disabled. The United Nations reports that only seven per cent of women who are disabled are involved in sports. A solution to this alarming statistic would be to provide women who have disabilities with opportunities to participate in sports in order to remove gender and disability stereotypes.
But how? If athletic endeavours are so beneficial, how can we promote those who are disabled to become involved in sports? How do we reduce the barriers to entry?
According to Sportanddev.org, much more research and work needs to be done to ensure that people who are disabled, regardless of their particular disability or geographic location, have equal access to athletics. As an ongoing problem in every level of sport, players, coaches, and franchises alike need to renew a focus on inclusion and dissolution of barriers to entry for those who are disabled.
This can mean anything from infrastructural changes in gyms, to expanding inclusion policies in recreational leagues, to creating bursaries and outreach programs for youth with disabilities.
People who are disabled deserve equal access to the benefits of athleticism — sports have to serve everyone.