What Have the Paralympics Achieved for Disabled Persons Human Rights?

In this essay I will look at the impact the Paralympic Games have had on the human rights of disabled people in specific relation to sport and maintain that whilst there have been significant improvements to the lives of disabled people since the Human Rights Act 1998 what has had the greatest impact on the lives of disabled people and their participation in sport has been the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (UNCRDP).

All to frequently disabled people although assigned the same rights as non-disabled peopled find themselves outside the framework of the Human Rights Act; nowhere more clearly than in the area of sport. This situation is highlighted perfectly in an extract by Linda Mastandrea of the International Paralympic Committee “Born with cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia, I grew up sitting on the sidelines watching children play in PE class. I went to the library or study hall. I got to be the team manager, not a player on the team.

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Unquestionably, this treatment cemented my status as “different”, an “outsider” and someone who could not quite fit in. ” Mastandrea(2007 p39). The Paralympic Games 2012 have shone a light on the excellence that disabled people are able to attain in the area of sport at elite level and have made prominent the discourse around ability and disability. The Games and associated village have also shown a utopian reality of inclusion and accessibility for all when money, staff and motivation are no object, (Evenbreak 2012) the reality is a starkly different one.

However I believe that where the attention needs to be focused is not the Paralympics but the community sports where people with disability either physical or intellectual face exclusion, discrimination and barriers when it comes to accessing sport in their local community. Legal Framework Before I begin a condensed summary of the impact of Article 30. 5 within the 2005 UNCRDP I will outline the basics of the 1998 Human Rights Act. Human Rights are assigned to each individual at birth; these rights cannot be changed or taken away by family or state.

The aim is to protect basic freedoms of the individual and ensure that everyone has the basic rights and needs to enable a full and happy life. As this essay does not allow me the space to explore fully all the areas that the Human Rights Act affects, I will focus on the area that I feel is most relevant to sport and disabled participation and that is the right to not be discriminated against. This is not to diminish the importance of the other significant and substantial areas that the Human Rights Act 1998 encompasses.

Within the Human Rights Act 1998 there are 3 categories; Absolute, Qualified and Limited rights. Absolute rights cannot be changed or broken for any reason; Qualified rights can be amended in certain circumstances and finally Limited rights which, under finite and limited circumstances can be over ridden. All the rights within the Human Rights Act 1998 are additional to the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 established after World War II to safeguard human rights, laws, and democracy. Since its establishment 47 European countries have signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights.

Disability and Sport As I mentioned above I believe Article 30. 5 of the 2005 UNCRDP has had more impact in redressing the inclusivity of sports and challenging the discriminatory nature of recreational sporting in local communities. This article specifically focuses on promoting disabled persons human rights and involvement in leisure, recreational and sporting activities. It has been acknowledged it is a significant step forward in levelling the playing field for all members of the community to become involved in mainstream sport, not just disability-specific sport.

This isn’t the first discussion around disabled people and the accessibility of sport, that is open to them in 1982 the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons focused not only disabled persons as active spectators but also as engaged participants encouraging nation states to commit to providing facilities and organisations that would help support this goal, 1993 the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities added additional emphasis on states to provide and make accessible sporting facilities as well as recreational facilities.

Schindlmayr (2007 p8) The 2005 UNCRDP is significant due to its legally binding nature as a Human Rights treaty. Social participation, which is the fulfilment of one’s meaningful life habits in his or her own environment (Fougeyrollas et al. 1998 cited Purdue and Howe 2012) this includes the participation in sports and has been acknowledged as being beneficial to individuals who are physically or intellectually disabled. (reference this from same journal as above).

For persons with disabilities sport helps to alleviate many of the negative consequences associated with disability such as low self-esteem, reduced social interaction, an unhealthy lifestyle, and lack of empowerment, as well as helping promote a positive and inclusive depiction of disabled persons within the community. Indeed this is the very foundation that the Paralympics are built upon when they began in 1948 when Ludwig Guttman rehabilitated patients of either amputation or spinal injury through sport as therapy for not only physical improvement but psychological and social rehabilitation.

Including Intellectual Disability There is literature highlighting the benefits for individuals with intellectual disabilities who are involved in sport either integrated or segregated ranging from social integration, healthy lifestyles, self esteem and behaviour (Grandisson et al 2012) although people with intellectual disability still receive discrimination, exclusion and barriers when attempting to access sporting activities.

An example of this exclusion can be seen in the most elite of sporting events which ended after athletes with intellectual disability had been prohibited from the Paralympics for 12years. The IPC reinstated persons with Intellectual disability into the 2012 games after removing this entire category of disabled persons following the 2000 games due to non-intellectually disabled athletes deceiving the Paralympic Committee and winning gold for the Spanish Intellectually isabled basketball team (Van Gilder Cooke 2012) The Special Olympics specifically established in1968 for persons with Intellectual Disability works tirelessly to promote inclusivity and reduce discrimination for people with intellectual disabilities. The work done by the Special Olympics with over 180 different countries and 2. 2million participants aims to highlight the importance of integration in sports as well as advance integration into non-disability specific sports.

There are many additional benefits that the Special Olympics include for participants ranging from health screening, dental checks referrals, employment opportunities and family support (Brogioli 2007 p43) Conclusion To conclude; I believe the Paralympics have helped to raise the general populations’ awareness of disability sport. Where the greatest affect is being done is work by organisations like Handicap International in countries such as Bangladesh, and Afghanistan; using sport and leisure activities to promote social inclusion, psychological resilience and physical well being.

As well as UNICEF’s work around land mines, using sport and play as rehabilative and educational tools in response to Article 30. 5 of the UNCRDP then the rights of disabled people will continue to be promoted (Chantereault 2007 p24). Engaging people with disabilities in sport for sports sake which is typically the case for able-bodied people will be more effective in promoting anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours than the temporary honeymoon effect that the 2012 Paralympics have generated.

The empowering effect that has been suggested the Paralympics will generate through watching and admiring elite paralypians at the Games may be somewhat diluted by the argument that, the afore mentioned elite paralympians are distanced from the ‘real world’ experience of disability that is experienced by the spectator through the very lifestyle adopted to become an elite paralympians. I would maintain that this is a contentious side-effect of the Paralympic games. nd calls into question whether empowerment is something that can be given to someone not directly involved with the process, or if empowerment is a form of cultural capital accessible only by those directly involved(Bourdiue 1997 cited in Purdue and Howe 2012). This suggests that only those in the minority of the disabled population inclined to chase paralympians dreams are going to benefit from the empowering effects of the Paralympics.

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