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This preliminary research was undertaken with the purpose of informing a wide audience on current provision of sport and physical activity opportunities for people with disabilities and on how participation in quality experiences might be increased.
There are people with disabilities who have had little or no experience of physical activity or exercise. They need, first of all, to develop their motor skills through adapted physical activity programmes and through physiotherapy where indicated. Other people with disabilities do not have the opportunity to participate in active leisure pursuits and sports that suit and appeal to them. They have had little or no opportunity to engage in physical exercise and sport with others and enjoy their social aspects. In school and in college the experience of children and young adults with disabilities are not always quality ones. Everyone with a disability, including athletes with a disability, need to be adequately catered for and their potential recognised, respected and nurtured.
Central to conducting research in the field of physical activity and sport is a clarification of important words and terms. Sport is often considered as physical activities that are engaged in for competition/ excellence and/or pleasure and that have defined rules and scoring systems. The European Sport's Charter (Council of Europe, 1992) defines sport as all forms of physical activity, which through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels. Exercise is defined as purposeful physical activity, which is often structured, and pursued for health and fitness benefits. Physical activity is defined as all forms of bodily movement which use energy including such tasks as housework and gardening (Council of Europe, 1992). In this report sport and physical exercise are used inter-changeably. In appendix 3, other pertinent terms and concepts are discussed including physical literacy, "elite" athletes, inclusive or adapted physical education/activity and independence, participation, inclusion and interdependence.
The enormous benefits of physical exercise have been recognised but they need to be more widely experienced. The pleasure and enjoyment that comes from physical exercise and sport can be sufficient reasons in themselves for participation. However, taking a more functional view, a whole range of benefits and reasons for participation can be enumerated and these are addressed in the report.
A Department of Education document, The Economic Impact of Sport in Ireland (2004), cites frequently suggested reasons for participation in sport: participation for health, for achievement, for social experience, for excitement, for compensation and for play. Chawla (1994) summarises some of the benefits of physical activity for people with disabilities: "Sport instills self discipline, a competitive spirit, and comradeship.
Its value in promoting health, physical strength, endurance, social integration, and psychological wellbeing is of little doubt. It is not difficult to understand why sport is so important for the wellbeing of people with disability."
Participation in physical activity has a role to play in personal development. It improves physiological and mental functioning and gives rise to feelings of physical, psychological and social competence. It is hugely enjoyable and can increase a person's resistance to stress. Through physical exercise and sport people can learn values and habits such as perseverance, constancy and competitiveness, fair play and sportsmanship. Sport can play a role in facilitating social participation, friendship and inclusion. It can be important in generating goodwill within and between diverse groups, places and countries. It is thought that physical exercise and sport can be used to contribute to a range of societal goals such as increasing community regeneration and social capital and reducing truancy and youth crime.
Positive effects of physical activity in persons with learning and physical and sensory disability that have been demonstrated include improvements in general health, physical fitness, bone metabolism and increased functional independence. There is also increased mobility and a reduction in chronic disease and secondary complications. Physical activity also has a mitigating effect on challenging behaviour (Moon et al, 1982; Nishiyama et al, 1986; Lancioni et al, 1994 and 1998; Washburn et al, 2002; Nary et al, 2000 cited by Boland, 2005).
Physical exercise is important in maintaining fitness for daily living, reducing functional limitations, facilitating independent living and preventing, delaying and reducing chronic illnesses and secondary conditions (Fentem, 1994). In people who have acquired a disability, participation in sport/physical exercise can help them come to terms with their disability, regain self-esteem and social integration (Chawla, 1994).
Physical activity is part of the antidote to the global burden of obesity and to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As the economic and social impact of a sedentary lifestyle and obesity becomes more apparent, efforts are being made around the globe to increase participation in physical exercise and sport. It is important that these initiatives become catch-up ones for people with disabilities rather than a time when the gap widens between them and their non-disabled peers in terms of participation in physical exercise and sport.
The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the National Coaching and Training Centre (NCTC), in a consultation paper, Building Pathways in Irish Sport (2002), cite some of the Irish documents that highlight the potential role for sport and physical activity in Ireland. These include Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland (Dept of Education, 1997), Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (Govt of Ireland, 2000), A Health System for You (Dept of Health, 2001), Sport for Life (Irish Sports Council, 2003) and Youth Sport in Ireland (Connor, 2003).
From an economic viewpoint the sport and leisure industry is increasing in importance in Ireland. In the sports strategy of the Department of Education (1997), Targeting Sporting Change in Ireland, participation in sport is identified as contributing to the physical and mental wellbeing of the nation. It is also identified as being capable of playing a significant role in tackling social and economic disadvantage. Sport and Active Recreation in Wales (2003) sets out an ambitious strategy for increasing participation in physical activity that should, simultaneously, improve the economy, improve health and wellbeing, increase social capital and make a mark internationally in terms of excellence in sport.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in England, in its Corporate Strategy, emphasised increasing participation in culture, arts and leisure activities and services. The Department states, "increasing access for disabled and socially disadvantaged people are of particular importance to our areas of responsibility". The Department, in co-operation with District Councils, is developing a strategy for improving health and well being through participation in culture and leisure activities. The aim is to increase health related physical activity by increasing opportunities for participation in sport, especially by young people, women and people with disabilities ().
The report has an executive summary and a number of appendices. The body of the report is divided into five chapters: 1) an introduction; 2) desk research; 3) results of focus groups and interviews; 4) discussion and 5) recommendations.
The report will be of particular interest to people with disabilities. It will also be of interest to individuals and organisations who are involved in the organisation and provision of sport and physical activity and physical education, training and coaching. These include owners, managers and staff of leisure centres, gyms and clubs; coaching and training bodies; relevant government departments; staff of agencies that provide public and community services or are engaged in community development; disability organisations and also educators/ teachers in pre-school, primary, secondary, third-level and adult education. In third level institutions, educators and lecturers, in the fields of education, leisure and sport management, physical education and the health sciences, may be particularly interested.
Thesis On Summerhill Schools – 421509 – Cityzee
The research consisted of the following elements: desk research including a review of the international literature, focus groups and interviews and discussions with key informants from disability organisations, education and training bodies and national and local statutory and voluntary agencies. The interviews, desk research and focus groups were conducted seeking discussion around a number of topics and questions (see Appendix 1).
An overview of the methodology is provided below in diagram form.
The Literature Review was conducted using the search engines Infotrac and Science Direct and by reviewing the literature in the libraries of the National Disability Authority (NDA) and University College Dublin (UCD). An internet search was carried out using the search engines Google Scholar and Ask Jeeves.
Individual interviews were conducted by phone and face to face. For the focus groups an explanatory letter and consent form (see appendix 2) were distributed and informed consent was obtained from those who volunteered to participate. Interviews were held with individuals from educational institutions, National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGBs) and agencies involved in leisure and sport provision and regulation.
Individual interviews and focus groups focused on the reasons for participating/ not participating in physical exercise and sport, barriers and incentives to participation, good and bad experiences at different stages of the life course, role models and opinions and suggestions regarding improving physical exercise and sport experiences. In the focus groups and individual interviews efforts were made to include people with disabilities from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, different parts of the country and with varying experiences and levels of participation in physical exercise.
Participants were adults including parents of children with disabilities (age range 20 to 75 years). Both men and women were involved. They had a range of physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities and mental health difficulties. People with both acquired disability and disability from birth participated in the study.
Parents of children with disabilities, adults with disabilities living at home, adults living in residential settings together with "elite" athletes took part in the study. (Webster's Online Dictionary defines elite as "the best of a class." See Appendix 3 for an exploration of the meaning of the word "elite" in the field of sport.)
In one focus group with parents their children were also present and although direct questions were put to the children they did not participate in the dialogue of the focus group.
For some of the middle aged and older adults participating in adapted physical activity programmes, it was the first time they had engaged in regular physical exercise. With these participants, and again with the participants of another focus group of parents whose children had recently had the opportunity to participate in adapted physical activity programmes, they were able to contrast prior and current experiences of physical exercise. Ten top Irish athletes with disabilities were individually interviewed.
Individuals and focus groups were established through contact with organisations providing services to people with disabilities. These included National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGBs) such as Irish Wheelchair Association Sport (IWA), the Centre for Independent Living (CIL), the Health Service Executive (HSE), local branches of the National Training and Development Institute (NTDI), now renamed the National Learning Network (LAN), the Down's Syndrome Association and providers of adapted physical activity programmes for people with disabilities. Individuals were also accessed through professionals, with and without disabilities, working in the area of sport, leisure and education. Written explanations of the study were circulated and written consent was obtained from respondents (see appendix 2). The focus groups and interviews were taped and transcribed or notes were taken at the time. Later, the opinions, suggestions and experiences collated were grouped under themes.
Focus groups and interviews were conducted with people living in Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway and Leitrim. These included:
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