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Promoting access

In this video, former Paralympians Denise Beckwith and N.G. Kamalawathie discuss the power of sport for people with disabilities.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Accessing sport.
DENISE BECKWITH: I am a Paralympian. I swam at the 2000 Paralympic Games, being a recipient of the bronze medal for the 4 by 50 freestyle relay. But now, for me, it is just a leisure thing. It’s also enabled me to develop skills, and friendships, and relationships. And it’s enabled me to go see the world as well. I’ve competed internationally in the US. I’ve competed internationally in New Zealand. I’ve competed internationally in Germany and other parts of Europe. And it’s so funny because the one connecting thing is sport. So sport does have this empowering ability, because sport is something that is viewed as equal and elitist.
So people with disability who’ve been able to participate in sport have been able to achieve recognition. Because a lot of the time, people go, what have you done in your life? Where have you gone? And I go, well, I’ve gone to Japan, I’ve gone to South Africa, I’ve gone to– and people look at me and go, but you’re a person with disability. And I’m going, yeah, I know. I saw sport as something I could do as a freedom. Because I can actually walk in the water, which is quite funny. So I was able to do that. And so I just started swimming. And someone said to me, you’d be actually a really good swimmer.
And I started laughing, going, it’s not like I’m going to be an Olympian. And I went– and they went, no, you’re not going to be an Olympian, but there’s Paralympic Games, which is parallel to the Olympic movement. And I didn’t know what it was. Because even though I was born with my disability, I’ve engaged in mainstream community my entire life. So it’s just the way it is, you know? I overcome stuff as it goes. But sport was something that I could do that was fun for me, and it gave me opportunities that I would never say that I would have had as an able-bodied person.
KAMALAWATHIE WITH INTERPRETER: Being involved in sport made a significant change in my life. In the general sense, it gave me good training facing obstacles and taking on the challenge of overcoming those obstacles. When I grew up, I went to a regular school in my village. I liked to participate in sports very much, and there was no opportunity for me to do so. But because I maintained that interest in sports, later on in my life, I was able to represent the country in wheelchair racing. Since 1982, I took part in the Pacific Games, and I visited Japan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. I had the honour of winning the first gold medal as a Sri Lankan woman with a disability.
I had numerous positive experiences because I took part in international sports. I got to meet others like me through these sporting events, and I was able to interact with men and women with disability and network amongst them. In fact, I could say that my life was transformed by these experiences. I even had the opportunity to interact with different political leaders from different countries, to dine with them and talk to them. And in 1996, I had the opportunity to present a report on women with disability and sports in Sri Lanka at the Paralympic Congress, which was held in Atlanta, United States. So in summary, what I can say is participating in sport has truly been a life changing experience for me.
And that was the training ground for me to take up leadership of women with disability in Sri Lanka, and has enabled me to be where I am today.

In this video, Denise and Kamala describe how gaining access to sport opened up other opportunities in their lives.

As Denise explains, people with disabilities who have participated in sport have not only been able to achieve recognition from the wider community but have also been able to then pursue other opportunities they might not have had the chance to pursue otherwise.

In 2008, the West Australian government launched the “Fair Play” Inclusive Sport and Recreation Policy in recognition of the contribution that disabled people make to the local, national and international sports arenas. One of our instructors, Dr Karen Soldatic, was the State-Wide Joint Chair of this Strategic Framework.

This policy works across a range of government departments to ensure that disabled people have access to inclusive sporting facilities and programs, and also have opportunities to participate as athletes, coaches, trainers and club volunteers. The initiative recognises the rights of disabled people to engage with sports, by addressing the range of barriers that prevent access.

The program operates around 6 core values (all of which you have encountered already in this course):

  • inclusion;
  • accessibility;
  • diversity;
  • equity;
  • dignity;
  • and respect.
One of the central values of “Fair Play” is to recognise the different possible roles of people with disabilities within sport, and to make all of these roles accessible. Their efforts in this area focus on creating enabling environments that actively facilitate disabled people’s potential as participants and as experts.

Talking points

  • What different strategies has the “fair play” initiative used to enable equality of access to sports?
  • How do they address attitudinal barriers to disabled people being involved in sport?
  • What other activities, aside from sport, create opportunities for people with disabilities?
  • Are you aware of any similar strategies or initiatives for creating access in your own community?

In the next step we ask you to explore some other projects, to see how they aim to improve access. We have grouped these around access to life opportunities, technologies, the built environment, and arts and culture.

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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