Approaches for Inclusive Athletes Development and Integration

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In Australia, Jeanes et al. explores the four levels of inclusivity which each translates to different approaches. The degree to which each approach permits for all populations to participate on an equal basis with others varies significantly. The continuum of inclusion begins with the normative approach which concentrates on “active assimilation and normalization of minority individuals to a dominant cultural standard”. This approach forces the disabled athletes (minority) to conform to the standards and practices exemplified by the able-bodied majority. The next approach to follow is the integrative approach which “accepts and legitimizes the presence of differences in society through formal modification”. This approach pays more attention to the differences which exist between the minority and majority, yet still maintains a culture standard which pertains closer to the majority. In a dialogical approach, the dominant group is still apparent, however the approach “welcomes and celebrates the cultural complexity of individuals” to better accommodate the differences in the learning curve. Finally, the transgressive approach uses the disability minority as a framework for action. In this situation, differences and diversity are utilized as a “vehicle for the generation of new knowledge and learning experiences”.

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The goal would be to eventually adopt a transgressive approach in all sport practices; this would be achieved by maturing through the four stages of inclusivity. Although, it would be naïve to assume that the transgressive approach could be applicable in all situations. In fact, several situations would not permit the transgressive approach – explicitly, ones where the disability inhibits certain aspects of participation. Jeanes et al. accommodates this thought by noting that having a “narrow conceptualization of inclusion” as a normative perception, neglects to consider prior relationships and standards. Because of this, the inclusive approach which is utilized must be in alignment with both the structural demands and roles of the sport, as well as the abilities and goals of the disabled athletes themselves.

Adopting an approach which is not the transgressive approach does not demonstrate a lack of willingness to integrate, but rather an awareness for the limitations which are present. In another 1989 article, Nixon discusses that a genuine integration of disabled athletes among able-bodied athletes implies an integration in which a person’s “sensory, physical, mental, or socioemotional impairment is recognized and accepted”, but does not lead to a hindrance that affects the interaction between all parties.

Even in the largest competition of the world – the Olympic Games – the transgressive approach is not applicable. Instead, the Olympics Games created another competition, the Paralympic Games, to create an equal opportunity for competition for Paralympic athletes. This introduces the idea of deviance disavowel. In this concept, it implies that an athlete is not ‘special’ due to their disability but because of their athletic performance that results in recognition and respect. In the Paralympic Games, this concept would be avoided since all participants have some form of disability; the winner, would then be honored due to their gold-medal performance, instead of being honored for their ability to perform under their unique circumstances.

Specifically, the Paralympic Games is an excellent example of an appropriate opportunity without the use of a transgressive approach. It is not completely discouraging or negligent to have segregated sport programs between disabled and able-bodied athletes; they still offer opportunities for disabled persons to participate in sport and improve their quality of life. The segregation framework of the Olympics and Paralympics did allow for competitive opportunity for all populations. However, an incident at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens suggests an imbalance between disabled and able-bodied competitors. The incident involved a discrepancy in public attention between the Olympics and Paralympics. The broadcasting of the Paralympic Games took place almost two months following the competition end date. In the contrary, the Olympic Games were closely followed and covered throughout the entire competition period, clearly illustrating the lack of visibility and publicity of the Paralympic athletes. This characterizes a lack of equality on another level, outside of the inclusion and participation level. In addition, it does not provide adequate encouragement from elite perspectives, to inspire younger disabled athletes to involve themselves to their greatest potential – a factor which is deemed to be critical in kick-starting involvement during childhood.

Regardless of the approach of integration taken, it is important to note the specific efforts required from all parties to make this interaction possible. The Canadian policy makes note of definitive entities which are involved in this process: athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, support staff and volunteers. Arguably, the most pivotal of these entities are the intrinsic motivations, goals, and intentions of the disabled athletes themselves. This is built on a foundation of empowerment – a notion which can elevate personal, interpersonal or political power so that individuals feel capable of bettering their lives through purposeful action. The empowerment theory is based upon cognitive perspective. An individual’s perception of a situation is ultimately the most important. However, there are a number of moderators and mediators which can influence one’s perception of empowerment – including, age of onset, gender, type of disability, goals, efficacy, and context. In regards to empowerment, previous research has demonstrated that disabled and able-bodied persons share more psychological similarities than differences. It has also been proven in the United Kingdom that athletes with physical disabilities have claimed that their disability has enriched their life. This offers encouraging grounds for disabled persons to not see their condition as a weakness, but rather as a possible rewarding outcome.

Nevertheless, with youth, in particular, a feeling of social inferiority may be present which would introduce a significant drawback. This feeling of inferiority is often amplified in inappropriate situations where the needs of the individual are not accounted for. This mindset can also be present in persons with disabilities who do not feel equipped to participate in sport due to a lack of potential. This was seen in Polish study by Tasiemski et al. whereby persons with spinal cord injuries did not envision themselves as ‘athletes’ due to their injury, along with the stigma which surrounds their injury. With incidences as complex as a spinal cord injury, it is important to make use of past successes to draw conclusions and insight for how these athletes can achieve increased levels of motivation and success. By learning techniques and strategies from disabled athletes performing at elite levels, these can be adopted on a recreational level to encourage participation.

Despite mediators beginning at the individual level, it continues onto the group level which is one which involves all participating athletes, family, friends, coaches and society as a whole. Self-empowerment serves as the basis of several intrinsic factors, although it is worthy to note that the empowerment paradigm is not limited to the single individual. Rather, the paradigm can be enhanced through being in touch with other assets beyond the individual level. Arguably, it is these extrinsic factors from other individuals which play the most critical role. Specifically, adolescents require constant and active encouragement to participate in integrated sport. Parents and family are commonly able to impact disabled persons’ access and participation in sport. Because of children’s high degree of dependence on parental figures, it is critical for parents to provide the initial spark to involve their child in sport. Without this preface, it becomes very difficult for these individuals to involve themselves in sport, later in life, due to a lack of familiarity and confidence. In a 2002 Belgium study by Hutzler et al., reactions of children with physical disabilities in response to their peers’ encouragement and empowerment was evaluated. Noticeably, the importance of empowerment in physical education (PE) classes attributed to positive reactions by the disabled children, in return, allowing for enhanced performance and self-efficacy.

In addition to parents and peers, coaches can also play key role in any athlete’s development. Notably, coaches of disabled persons allow them to recognize what they are physically and mentally capable of. With these boundaries established, coaches are able to formulate customized development plans to develop skills, techniques and knowledge which uniquely adhere to their limitations. Without recognition of these barriers, development plans would be insufficient and prohibit a disabled athlete from reaching their personal potential in their sport of choice. In essence, it is evident that there are several intrinsic and extrinsic motivations which contribute to a disabled athlete’s mindset and involvement. Nonetheless, these intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are not mutually exclusive. Ultimately, it is the interplay and involvement of both factors which offer the highest extent of motivation.

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