Sports and physical activity are extremely beneficial to children’s development, not only developing their physical health but also their social skills, problem-solving abilities, and conflict-resolution skills. These activities should be accessible to all, not just those who are “able-bodied.” Children and adults with special needs, whether it be physical, developmental, or social disabilities, deserve to have access to the same resources and activities that those who are “able-bodied” or “neurotypical” have access to. Join Russ Ewell and friends as they discuss why inclusion matters in the world of sports and physical activity.
Hello and welcome to The Digital Scribbler Podcast Season 1 Episode 3. This is Russ Ewell, and in this episode, I will be discussing the benefit of sports leagues and community building for children and adults with disabilities, including why they are currently failing children with disabilities and how we can cater them to be more inclusive. I will conclude the episode by speaking about as E-Soccer and E-Basketball, two programs that I started where kids with and without disabilities are encouraged to play together, and the necessary accommodations are available to those who need them.
First off, I want to begin by explaining how most sports leagues and teams are currently failing children with physical, developmental, and other disabilities. If you go to any sporting game or practice, it is quite simple to notice how they are unsuitable. First, in practice, the method used for coaching is not accessible to those with developmental or intellectual disabilities. There are particular learning styles that special education teachers and tutors use when educating children with autism, downs syndrome, ADHD, or other intellectual disabilities. This system often involves a process of tethering what they are learning to what they already know. For instance, a coach will not reach a child with disabilities by merely telling them that they should aim to score a goal. Instead, they will need to link this objective to something positive that already exists in their own life, such as the act of being rewarded for cleaning their room or using the bathroom. By embracing methods that special education teachers and tutors use to teach those with developmental and intellectual disabilities, coaching will be much more effective and accessible to those living with these sorts of disabilities, and the players will nonetheless be able to further engage in the sport to a higher understanding and capacity.
The ways in which current sports teams and leagues are unsuitable for children with physical disabilities is much more apparent and visible. It is so seldom that mobility aids are offered or accepted by sports teams, and so frequently this results in either a complete exclusion of those with physical disabilities or segregation. Even in the instances when children with mobility difficulties, or those who use wheelchairs or other sorts of devices, are allowed to participate in sports, the playing field is never wholly equalized. They are not given any kind of help or accommodation that could make the experience a positive or a fair one and are often disregarded and ostracized by the non-disabled players.
So why is it essential that we work to remedy this problem and make the world of sports a more accessible place for children and adults with disabilities? First, sports can have a very significant impact on a child’s life and the development of crucial skills. Being on a sports team can help strengthen social skills, develop the ability to work as part of a team, improve problem-solving, and heighten other skills that will carry over later in life. However, often it is difficult to find a league or organization that is both accommodating and inclusive for children with disabilities. This is slowly being remedied as many more become available so that children can have the same opportunities for participation in sports.
Sports are so necessary for helping children learn to socialize and interact with other children. When a part of a team, children’s communication skills develop drastically, and they can form a sense of community. On the other hand, when they are ostracized through inaccessibility, they are deprived of this experience and the chance to build a community through a common ground. The benefits of having equal ground and opportunity in sports are manifold. I am participating in modified sports provide children with a way to empower themselves and build camaraderie with their peers. They have space where they are in charge of their body and can effectively determine their own limits without being excluded from the activity.
In addition to modifying and creating sports leagues that focus on providing accessibility and opportunities for those with and without disabilities to play together, there are also options for children and adults to play sports within the disability community. These types of programs, of course, vary. Programs such as the Special Olympics are explicitly designed for youth and young adults with disabilities, and on many occasions, competitors need an aid, teacher, or volunteer to help them participate in the activity. Sports are modified in ways including wheelchair basketball, where hoops are lowered, or sitting volleyball, where the net is lowered.
Many communities also have integrated teams, where kids with and without disabilities compete together. On these teams, aids and extra volunteers are a norm the can help children with disabilities participates. Blaze Sport’s is an excellent resource, and provides a list of resources for athletes of all ages to be able to find a sports program that fits their wants, needs, and skill levels. There are many other resources available like this with a simple keyword search into google, but for the sake of convenience I will also link a few options in the description of this podcast.
These modifications, whether in integrated sports or specially designated programs, are critical in allowing children with disabilities to have a positive experience playing a sport and being part of a team. It makes organized sports accessible to them and helps them become healthier in that they are given an outlet to fulfill the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day for youths, as recommended by the Department of Disability and Human Development. It also gives them an outlet to gain invaluable life skills alongside their peers, such as developing social skills, learning how to work as a team, tuning leadership abilities, and learning how to work toward a common goal with sportsmanship and rigor.
I have done my own work in this area, wanting to create an area for children with disabilities to have positive experiences with sports. In 2007, I launched E-Soccer, a league where children with a range of abilities and disabilities all work and play together. Form E-Soccer, grew E-Hoops, a league with the same mentality and purpose which played basketball instead of soccer. I am continuing to look forward to do work to integrate the athletic community and the disability community, and believe that every child should have the opportunity to engage and have a positive experience on a sports team.
As I mentioned on the Website for E-Soccer, also attached in the video description, we began E-Soccer in April, 2000 at a small park in Foster City with just a few friends and a handful of kids. My two sons have special needs, and I thought they would benefit from learning the game of soccer while building friendships with other children. What we didn’t expect was that over the next decade, E-Soccer would develop into an all-volunteer, inclusive soccer program that serves hundreds of kids with and without special needs in the Bay Area and around the world.
E-Soccer is dedicated to empowering both typical and special needs children of all abilities to reach their full athletic and social potential. E-Soccer’s inclusion methodology promotes leadership as well as social, character, and athletic development for each child in an individualized manner.
Of course, this is just one small step in an effort that should be both national and international. To truly make a change into society, the effort to change anything must come from many places and many people. This needs to be recognized as a society-wide inaccessibility issue and combated by ensuring that proper accommodations and accessibility measures are always taken. Inter-abled sports leagues and sports leagues accessible to those with a range of disabilities is the future and is what every child and adult with a disability deserves.