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Accessibility in Sports: A step to Inclusiveness How Sports can Contribute to make Nepal More Disabled Friendly and Diverse

Pawan Ghimire


Abstract:

Sport is the integral part of all human being disregarding their caste, ethnicity, age, sex, and physical status. It has always stood as an effective tool for social harmony, conflict resolution, and enhancement of the physical and mental well-being of individuals. When a player happens to be a person with disability, its importance is doubled, as sport bears a power to rehabilitate, empower, corrects/ his mobility skills and cure many of his physical disorders. However, access of persons with disabilities in sports activities in the context of Nepal is relatively low due to lack of accessible sports facilities such as playfield and equipment.

Accessible sports, also coined as inclusive sports, are fundamental to inclusion as it allows both and people with and without disabilities to use the same facilities. Nevertheless, some of the modification that is needed to adjust persons with disabilities rather supports athletes persons without disabilities as well. When services and facilities are being built up, their conceptualization, planning, and construction are exclusively focused on athletes without disabilities; they do not keep into account the special needs of persons with disabilities. However, physical barriers always limit a certain group of people like people with disabilities from using the services. In fact, as rightful citizens of the same society, it is the right of all persons with disabilities to use all the available services with full enjoyment, independence, and dignity. Little progress has been observed in promoting accessible sports like cricket, basketball, football, Boccia, athletics, and swimming.

Key words; Accessibility in sports, inclusiveness,  disability friendly.

Introduction:

With the emergence of disability as a human rights issue, accessibility has been a major topic of discourse, chiefly on whether the freedom and independence of persons with disabilities can be ensured or not. Its emergence as a human rights topic plays a vital role in creating an inclusive society where persons with and without disabilities enjoy every facility without any havoc in mind and any obstacles to overcome. Simply, accessibility is a fundament of disability-inclusive development and also a tool for community-based inclusive development. Out of the several aspects where accessibility has been considered, sports are certainly an important one. The Constitution of Nepal guarantees sports as the right of all and Article 30 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) quotes access to sports as the rights of persons with disabilities. Sports has been considered as one of the important component  as it  has  the power to rehabilitate, empower, build a sense of leadership, and enhance physical and mental robustness.

It does bear the caliber to correct a number of physical disorders, curb anxiety and depression, and provide a common platform to find and raise the people’s voice for such an important issue such as social inclusion. Thus, accessible sports, also known as an inclusive sports, is considered as one of the important factors of disability mainstreaming as it provides an conducive environment for  people with disabilities to use  the same services and facilities athletes without disabilities use. However, this might need certain modification in infrastructures and technologies to make it adaptable. Hence, accessible sports are also known as adaptive sports. Through sports, persons without disabilities interact with persons with disabilities in a positive context, forcing them to reshape assumptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do[2]’

When services or facilities are being made, the needs of persons with disabilities are not considered or fully taken into account. Different physical and technological barriers prohibit a certain group of people like people with disabilities to freely access these sports facilities. It has to be taken into consideration that anything that is suitable for persons with disabilities is also suitable for others as well. Basketball courts, cricket grounds, and table tennis venues should be modified for the use of athletes with disabilities. Athletes with and without disabilities to play together can create a mutual understanding between them, understand the hidden potential of persons with disabilities, and ultimately aid in establishing an inclusive society where people with and without disabilities live a harmonious life sharing the common benefits (Jaeger & Bowman, 2005). 

II. Current situation of accessible sports

Since the primitive era, people with disabilities have been facing many obstacles in achieving equality. Discriminatory social practices have resulted in the exclusion of people with disabilities face at all levels from the family to the highest official positions. For years together the discrimination in law and practice were justified on the grounds that people with disabilities are different from general people and differed in physical, mental and psychological aspirations, the result of the formal approach to understanding equality (Hilary, 2008).

Certain amendments and policies have been successful in uplifting the status of people with disabilities. Yet, there haven’t been substantial changes in the lives of athletes with disabilities as accessible spots could neither come under the national priority and not under the priority of persons with disabilities themselves. Unless more people with disabilities are encouraged and a favorable ambiance is created to welcome youths to the playfield, it will be difficult to create a common habit among them to join a sport. Indeed, it is always very difficult to persuade and convince them to join a practice at the beginning.

The total annual budget allocated by  theMinistry for Youth and Sports for the fiscal year 2017 to 2018 depicts that government investment for non-disabled athletes is twenty-five Rupees whereas only two Rupees fall under the share of each disabled athlete (Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association, 2016). Hence, in this adverse situation, it is obvious for accessible sports to remain hidden from the society and its importance not known to many.

With the promulgation of the New Constitution of Federal Nepal in 2015 and Disability Rights Act in 2017, person with disabilities have been successful in gaining many of their political, social, and economic rights. The country has been at least nominally more inclusive and the government has been more cognizant of the rights of indigenous or disadvantaged groups. But the same positive change does not apply to persons with disabilities, especially those living under societal suppression and underestimation.

Although the government and other stakeholders are positive towards health and education, circumstances reveal the clear apathy of these institutions in promoting accessible sports. It seems like disability sports are almost in a same place when it was started forty years ago. One of the major causes of its setback is its behavioral and policy accessibility. According to population census of 2011, the disability population of Nepal is found to be 1.94 percent out of which almost 50 percent is being occupied by the population of youths and children who can be involved in the sports and recreational activities (CBS, 2011).

According to the Department of Education, there are 89 inclusive schools for the visually-impaired and four schools catering to students with hearing impairments. However, data on the number of special schools and number of children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream schools are unavailable. Not more than ten percent of these schools have accessible facilities that can encourage students with disabilities to the playfield. Even teachers do not encourage students with disabilities to play as they do not have knowledge on disability sports. The issue is that they are not well aware and sensitive about disability issues and cannot imagine or understand the importance of having accessible infrastructure in their schools.

As a result, while students without disabilities play, students with disabilities either mingle with their classmates or sing along. The negative attitude and apathy of teachers and school management towards promoting accessible sports have contributed in isolating non-disabled students for disabled students. A survey by the Cricket Association of the Blind (CAB) (2011) also depicted that in a school which has locked many of the sports materials in a store do not have a single sport material for their blind students. The school management must understand that if they don’t create a conducive atmosphere for students with and without disabilities, their educational mission can never reach to the climax.

Accessibility is one of the greatest challenges that athletes with disabilities face in playing their preferred sports. Though 22 organizations have been registered as non-government organizations (NGO) to develop disability sports, but not more than five are active at the present day context. Sports like basketball, blind cricket, deaf cricket, swimming, para-taekwondo, Boccia, and disability-friendly table tennis are being organized but other sports are still struggling to survive. This is mainly because of lack of accessible playfield and equipment. No any accessible sports materials have been produced in Nepal so far.

These organizations do not  have  their own playfield and as they have  to use  other  facilities to  continue  their  activities,  they have been  interacting with the concerned authorities to  make  the venues accessible. Nepal Para-Table Tennis Association has been successful in making accessible table tennis hall at the Nepal Disabled Association, the house owner of spinal cord injuries has let them make their office accessible, some of the swimming pools have ramps and players can have their access to cricket grounds in Pulchowk and Kirtipur.

After the destruction of DasarathRangasala Stadium in 2015, the availability of accessible playfields rose as a crucial issue.

On the other hand, this has also given an opportunity for the Government to construct accessible and disabled-friendly infrastructures as guided by the accessibility guidelines of 2013 which has made all public venues and infrastructures to be accessible (i.e.to be used by all disregarding their age, sex, and physical status (Government of Nepal, 2013). Despite efforts, athletes with disabilities are reluctant to use some of the accessible sports venues, like the swimming pool in Satdobato ANFA Complex, two cricket grounds in Pulchowk and Kirtipur, and a table tennis hall in Lainchour. Though they seem to be accessible, they do not have other accessible features like accessible bathrooms and kitchen.

Moreover, the lack of accessible features hit women with disabilities more as they often have to use restrooms for sanitary purposes. Availability of coaches with knowledge of sign language, installation of light system, display of information on the screen, information in braille and audio formats, and mandatory safety features is what cannot be experienced in these public sports venues. The absence of these integral features has resulted in poor performances of athletes with disabilities in international events.

Nepal doesn’t have specific laws for accessible sports including sports for persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, access to sports and recreational activities by persons with disabilities have been guaranteed by several legal instruments and compacts such as UNCRPD, Sustainable Development Goals, Incheon Strategies, Disabled Protection and Welfare Act of 1982, National Sports Policy of 2009, Sports Development Act of 1991, and the recently-approved Disability Act. Despite of UNCRPD been ratified by the Government of Nepal in 2009 and the Government having approved accessible guidelines being in 2013, no appreciable progress has been observed in promoting accessible sports in the context of Nepal.

III. Research Objectives

  • To study the current situation of accessible sports in Kathmandu Valley.
  • To draw concerned authorities' attention towards promoting accessibility in sports and recreational activities.

IV. Research Methodology

The findings of this research are based on the direct observation of some of the well-known sports venues in Kathmandu Valley like Dashrath Stadium, the basketball court at the National Sports Council (NSC) in Siphal, the cricket grounds at Pulchowk and Kritipur, the swimming pool at the NSC office in Satdobato and the table tennis hall at Lainchour. Two blind schools such as Namuna Secondary School and Laboratory Boarding School were visited and examined to analyse its implementation of accessibility sports.

Similarly, primary data have been collected through interviews with leaders of Kathmandu Valley-based accessibility sports NGO and athletes with disabilities. Secondary data, including laws, newspaper articles, and other pertinent documents, have been collected. Some of the NGOs who took part in this study were the Paralympic Spinal Cord Injuries Sports Association, Blind Cricket Association, Boccia Association, Deaf Cricket Association and Physically-Disabled Table Tennis Association have been consulted about the accessibility causes they are working for. A survey has been conducted within schools to test the knowledge and awareness of respondents regarding accessible sports.

V.  Findings of the Research

Flaws were found in the implementation of the existing laws and policies promoting sports for persons with disabilities. Based on the results of the survey, 70 percent of the policymakers at ministries and NSC are not aware of these policies. Most of the infrastructures at the NSC and other premises are inaccessible and have several barriers to overcome. Ninety percent do not have followed accessible guidelines, while some of them have ramps but no any other accessible facilities. Events are being conducted installing temporary and unsafe restroom during the events.

Only 10 percent of the disability sports organizations have partly maintained accessibility in their offices. No progressive renovation has been done to the heavily destructed sports infrastructures at Dashrath Stadium. Production of accessible sports materials is almost zero and coaches having sufficient knowledge of braille, sign language interpretation, and disability only account one percent. Moreover, 90 percent of the children were reluctant to play due to lack of accessible sports materials and venues. No any sports venues have an availability of medical kits and assistive devices. Only 0.5 percent of print media covered about information on accessible sports while two percent of the public has heard about accessible sports.

The devastating earthquake has not only created a problem, but has also given an opportunity to build and modify all the inaccessible infrastructures into disability-friendly spaces. Dashrath Stadium and a number of office buildings have been ravaged by the earthquake and the NSC is in a process of reconstructing all these damages. However, not even a single consultation has been done with representatives from disability sports organizations. There is a doubt that whether accessibility guidelines of 2013 will be followed or not. In some of the cases, the condition of the land area does not allow the venue to be made fully accessible. Along with this attitude of persons working in the public sports venues are also not positive as they do not have any knowledge on the competency of persons with disability and need of inclusive sports for their overall development.

The Kirtipur international cricket ground is free for mainstream cricket players but athletes with disabilities are required to pay exorbitant fees. The observation shows that no preliminary accessible features such as ramps in toilets, audio system, safety measures and safe changing rooms for women with disabilities have been properly maintained in almost all of the public sports venues. Accessibility guidelines were not followed. So much so, the NSC doesn’t have any employee who is proficient in sign language and braille. On the other hand, lack of accessible transportation always hinders persons with disabilities to reach to the sports venues and conduct regular practices. Lack of coordination between the water supply board, telecommunication, and transportation divisions have also created problems in maintaining safe access to sports venues as well.

VI. Conclusion

Accessibility in sports is an emerging issue in human rights discourse. However, prolonged intervention is required to make public sports fully accessible. Though few of the existing policies support the promotion of inclusive sports, it is imperative to have a specific policy which can contribute in the development of accessible sports in Nepal. A mission to build an inclusive society can only come true if people with and without disabilities enjoy the same services and facilities with full independence, dignity, and autonomy.

VI. Recommendations

Based on the aforementioned observations, the following recommendations must be undertaken by the government to promote accessible sports in Nepal, such as:

  • Access audit of all public sports venues including NSC should be done.
  • Strengthen and follow-up the implementation of existing policies
  • From an accessibility group of disabled sports organizations who will continuously monitor all public sports venues to ensure the proper guidelines are followed
  • Form a National Accessible Board
  • Spread a public service message about accessibility through all media channels
  • Sensitize officials of mainstreaming sports about accessibility and disability
  • Manufacture and assemble disabled-friendly sports equipment

Annex 1: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first legally binding international instrument to address the rights of persons with disabilities and sport.  Article 30 of the Convention addresses both mainstream and disability-specific sport and stipulates that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels”. It also calls upon Governments, States party to the Convention, to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sport and recreational venues — as spectators and as active participants. 

This also requires that children with disabilities be included in physical education within the school system “to the fullest extent possible” and enjoy equal access to “play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities (UNCRPD, 2006). In conjunction to this, article nine also speaks about ensuring accessibility of persons with   disabilities to all public venues, transportation, and communication system on an equal basis to other. And maintain minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities.

Annex 2: Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs)

With an aim to fulfill the gaps seen in Millennium Development Goals “MDG’s”, United Nations “UN” general Assembly passed Sustainable Development Goals “SDG’s” to be implemented from the beginning of 2016. These SDGs incorporates seventeen goals related to different thematic issues. The goal eleven of SDGs is about making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Based on this goal, target 11.7, sub targets. Target  11.7.1 and  11.7.2 envies,  By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, enough  open  spaces in build-up areas  and , in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities [UNO, 2016]. Here public venues and open spaces also refer to accessible public play field as well.

Annex 3: Incheon Strategy

The Inchon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia & the Pacific, Asian & Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022.] This strategy has ten goals and 27 targets. The goal, three of this strategy is about ensuring Access to physical environment, public transportation, knowledge, information and communication. Similarly, to ensure accessibility of all, this goal has set four targets to be achieved.

Targets 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D are about access to public spaces, transportation, information and communication system and assistive devices respectively] UNSCAP, 2013]. As incorporated by this goal, assistive devices, accessible public venues like, hall, use of accessible information and communication system, and transportations are the inevitable components of the accessible sports.

Annex 4: Disabled Protection and Welfare Act 1982 

In 1982, The then His Majesty ‘s Government of Nepal under  the Social Welfare Council formed the ever first  act called Disabled Protection and Welfare Act ”DPWA” with an aim to  protect and mainstream the issues of people with  all kinds of disabilities. This act based on charity modality was followed significant provisions regarding the promotion of disability sports; 1. Under article five  and sub article  1 v  which is about  right to equality  quotes that no   disabled persons shall, solely on the basis of their disability, be denied entry into any association or club or community or function providing education or training or launching social or culture programmers within the Kingdom of Nepal, while sub- article 2  of article  10  speaks about   giving special priority and making  special arrangement  to  those wishing to take part in sports  and recreational activities.

Article 10 (2) if any person with disability wants to take part in sports, recreation or cultural shows, there is a provision for providing appropriate training, teaching and giving priority to that work in related institution for that purpose. (DPWA, 1982)

Annex 5:  Disability right act, 2017

Article 34 was recently ratified disability act highlights persons with disabilities right to sports. This article draws Nepal Government’s attention to take appropriate steps to incorporate persons with disabilities in sports activities on an equal basis to others. This article also stresses in modifying the existing infrastructures, developing inclusive sports curriculum and inclusion of children with disabilities in school sports programmes) (NFDN, 2017).

Annex 6: Sports Development Act 2048 (Act amended in 2053, 2063 and 2066) Article 10

Functions, duties and powers of Council: Under the article 10 sub-article (I) talks about making arrangement for the organization of trainings and competitions for the development of sports by persons living with disabilities who have met disabilities physically and mentally due to various causes and make, or cause to be made publicity about the importance of such sports, as per necessity.

Annex 7: National Sports Policy 2009

This policy which has been made with somehow forward looking perspective has several disability related articles. Under article 3, it has been mentioned to upgrade and update physical infrastructures according to international standard along with providing an emphasis on the development of disability sports, according to the need and interest of persons with disability and ensuring promotion of participation. Similarly, under Article 5, Sports and physical infrastructure must be built taking into consideration the type or nature of disability.

References

  • Central Bureau of Statistics.(2011). Population Census of Nepal.Retrieved from http://cbs.gov.np/image/data/Population/National%20Report/National%20Report.pdf [Accessed 23 March 2018].
  • Cricket Association of the Blind.(2011).Status of disability sports in Nepal.
  • Jaeger, P. and Bowman, C. (2005).Understanding Disability: Inclusion, Access, Diversity, and Civil Rights. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • NSCISA.(2016). Gap analysis in sports policies.
  • Silver, H. (2007). The process of social exclusion: the dynamics of an evolving concept.
  • UNESCAP.(2014). ‘Incheon strategy for the persons with disability’.Retrieved from www.maketherightreal.net [Accessed 23 March 2018].
  • United Nations Organization.(2006). United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with     Disabilities.
  • United States Access Board. Accessible sports facilities. Retrieved from https://www.access-board.gov

Author's Bio

Pawan Ghimire is a disability rights advocate and chairman of the Cricket Association of the Blind (CAB).  He is currently the second Vice-President of the World Blind Cricket Ltd. in the United Kingdom. He previously served as the Asian Development Director of the World Blind Cricket in United Kingdom and Joint General Secretary of the Nepal Association for the Welfare of the Blind. Aside from being a professional cricket player, he also served as a soldier during the Civil War period, in which he received the Medal of Command. His lifelong aim is to promote cricket for the visually-impaired youths and children in Nepal and promote the human rights of persons with disabilities. Mr. Ghimire hopes to inaugurate Nepal’s first national cricket team consisting of visually-impaired women and organize national level tournaments for them.

End Note

[2] (United States Access Board, https://www.access-board.gov/)

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