Disability Sport NI
Northern Ireland has a lot to be proud of when it comes to creating opportunities for the disabled. I had the privilege of sitting down with two charming ladies from Disability Sport NI, Judith Brennan, Active Clubs Coordinator and Andrea Herron, Communications and Engagement Officer. They have developed models for community engagement through sport for the disabled that should be emulated worldwide.
One of the biggest barriers for the disabled community is the lack of understanding of various competencies. Just because you’re blind, does it mean you can’t play tennis? The answer amazingly is no! There are ways of making most sports and recreational activities accessible through a little information gathering and imagination. This video gives a brief overview of the program offered to the blind and the benefits it provides.
Below is a list of some of the sports that have been adapted for the blind:
These are just a few examples and the list keeps growing as new sports are explored and adapted. The tennis program was introduced two years ago in Belfast and one of their players, Brian Lenehen, is second in the world of blind tennis. There are several top Para-Athletes in Northern Ireland and programs like this one encourage more and more people to express their abilities through sport.
What is the benefit to people with disabilities engaging in sporting and active recreational activities? Last week we talked about depression and isolation within the blind community, avoiding this and pulling yourself out of these issues is top on my list. If you get involved in an active pursuit your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that reduce your feeling of pain and will give your mood a lift. I have a dear friend who suffered from a debilitating illness, he was also a writer and when he felt a mental block he would fight through his pain and go for long walks to get his mind moving again. He used to say that if you moved your body, you could move your mind. I have proven to myself many times that this tenant works very well.
Getting out of the house to do a physical activity will also bring you into contact with other people, thus isolation is conquered. Team sports in particular can be quite rewarding as teammates become fast friends. You will also gain confidence as you build physical stamina and special awareness. These are very important as your vision fades. It is possible to learn to tap into your other senses early so the world never becomes that big, bad scary place it can seem with a major drop in vision.
How Does Blind Sport NI Do It?
Disability Sport NI is a charity organization that works within the 11 councils throughout Northern Ireland. They facilitate and develop programs that they then will hand-off to the local community to continue. The Pathway to Opportunity program is a 6-week trial for participants and their families. This allows a small group within a community, up to ten people, to try out a sport or activity for free. If they like the program, Judith works with the community to develop a local leader to continue the program long-term. Judith does a three- hour session with the person or people who will continue the program after she leaves so that they feel confident in their ability to work with the specific needs and adaptations of the disabled participants. It’s a fantastic program which should be easily implemented by other communities in other countries. Again, Northern Ireland has a lot to be proud of.
Team Building Course
This is really something special! One of the biggest barriers for the disabled community is the perception of the able-bodied world. People who don’t have limitations can’t understand how a disabled person would be able to do the many things we can still achieve. This isn’t out of maliciousness, they just cannot put themselves in our shoes. Getting the able-bodied community, especially those in the corporate world to understand the creativity, determination, and work ethic of the disabled community could lead to further work and social activities for the disabled. It breaks down the barriers and allows open and honest communication which is a very powerful tool. So, what is this amazing opportunity? The Team Building Course allows a team of employees to try out various disabled sports in a simulated disability status. This three hour, three sports program helps develop teamwork, trust and creativity in corporate teams. Simulation glasses of various vision difficulties are provided, for example to the team and they will work together to play a game or sport. They get to experience, just for a little while, what it is like to have a physical disability. They are also encouraged to ask questions in a safe environment where they can gain significant insights into how our disabilities affect our lives. It’s a win, win, win situation. Corporations are always looking for ways to build their teams. They are also always looking for soft-skill enhancement programs, like improving creativity, social engagement, and assertiveness. What better way than tapping into the community that has mastered all these skills out of necessity.
Thank you again to Judith and Andrea for meeting with me. I learned a lot and am truly impressed by what you’re building in Northern Ireland. There are a lot of takeaways and my hope is that some of you in the RP community find a way to get active and bring activity to your community, where ever you may be.