Being an athlete comes with inherent challenges, especially if you’re competing at a high level. Disabled athletes face the same obstacles but can also come up against difficulties relating to their disability.
Many of these challenges are not products of a disability itself, but due to lack of access to adequate equipment, training and facilities. Disabled people are a minority population – around one in ten people have a disability – and as with most minorities, they still face stigma and discrimination on an individual and systemic level.
No Place To Train
The most obvious hurdle faced by disabled people is the lack of facilities and opportunities to train. Even a run-of-the-mill gym is often not conducive to a disabled athlete’s needs. Commercial gyms are typically crowded, loud and bright, with equipment made with non-disabled people in mind. For someone in a wheelchair, just getting to the upper level of a gym can be impossible if there is no elevator.
For athletes with sensitivities to noise and light, it could be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to train in an environment which uses loud music and lighting to energise Exercisers.
Stigma And Attitude
It is no secret that disabled people have been (and are still) on the receiving end of bigotry and discrimination by greater society. While many have been ridiculed because of others’ prejudice, the new way of portraying disabled athletes is also not seen as helpful by those living with a disability themselves.
Inspiration From A “Tragic” Situation
We have seen a slow shift in the way that disabled people are represented in media; from damaged and incapable to heroes conquering the insurmountable. Although this may be progress, many disabled athletes say that this portrayal is harmful, although perhaps in a less obvious way.
This “tragedy/charity model,” as it is termed, still implies that a disability is a defect to be overcome and diminishes any disabled person’s success into a story meant to inspire the non-disabled. A huge challenge faced by disabled athletes is to dispel the notion that their disabilities are more important than their athletic careers or even just their love of sport.
Needs Aren’t Being Met
While all athletes have psychological and material needs in order to train, disabled athletes often find themselves excluded. Many centres offer a range of sports, but the options for disabled athletes are considerably more limited. While team sports typically played by non-disabled athletes can include disabled players, there is a shortage of sports teams specifically for disabled people – wheelchair-specific sports and sports like goalball and beep baseball for blind athletes.
Disabled athletes have needs that differ slightly from non-disabled athletes – they might require special transport to attend sessions, additional time for getting into training gear, adapted equipment and access to coaches who have the right skills.
Onwards And Upwards
Despite all these challenges, it is encouraging to see that disabled athletes are slowly gaining access to things previously reserved for the non-disabled. Just like Australian Open betting, everyone should be able to enjoy the sporting activities they love. Although change is coming slowly, activism is chipping away at the old attitudes of prejudice and exclusivity.