Children with Special Needs (CWSNs) are excluded from playgrounds with no special coaches sensitised to train them.
CWSNs are excluded from sports activities despite education acts mandating their inclusion in sports and recreational activities. Lack of sports activities affects their social skills, mental and physical health, say experts.
Tapas Bharadwaj, a visually impaired working professional, founder at Raindrops Foundation and a special education policy expert said that when he was in school, he wanted to play cricket because he was fond of that sport. But even when the authorities agreed to build a team and play, it was too tough for him to convince the other 10 players to play with him. They did not know how to play it with him. .
Planning sports activities for these children comes with challenges, Bharadwaj said, because teachers need to understand what sport they can play. Also taking these students to the field with no inclusive equipment would be inclusion on the face of it but not for real, Bharadwaj said. Ways of incorporating 5-Dimensional, 7D and 9D experiences for particularly visually impaired children that help them understand the accuracy of the situation through sound experience, need to be included he added.
The Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016, states that it is the duty of the educational institutions that children with special needs are provided opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with other students. Moreover, they are supposed to have recreation centers, outdoor camps, and adventure activities.
Particularly for sports activities, the government is supposed to redesign and support infrastructure facilities of all sporting activities for persons with disabilities. It is also stated that funds are allocated specifically for sports activities to provide multi-sensory essentials and features in all sporting activities to ensure effective participation. The Ministry of Human Resource Development also stated necessary participation of CWSNs in sports, and co-curricular activities to promote all round ability development.
However, only one in five children with disabilities play sports with his/her/their friends a report posted by Umoya Sports, an NGO working with CWSNs shows. This further leads to lack of social skills development due to less interaction, lack of physical education and activity leading to subsequent physical and mental health issues.
Aditya V, founder, Umoya Sports said that lack of accessibility, awareness and infrastructure impact the sports activities for CWSNs. The mindsets and social stigma create mental blockage for the children to play. There are no educators/coaches particularly for sports to help the students play a sport. The regular sports teachers are not sensitised to handle CWSNs. The teachers focus more on able-bodied children instead of CWSNs. There are no programmes in schools to make sports adaptable for them, Aditya further said.
“Moreover, mostly special educators themselves have disabilities and have never been trained for sports as well,” said Supriya Dey, managing trustee, Vision Empower Trust. “Hence, there are no professional trainers who know the motor functions to assist children for sports activities,” Dey said.
Schools usually do not focus on outdoor games for the students. Dr. Dattu Agrawal, Chairman, MatoshreeAmbubai Residential School for Blind Girls said that they have indoor games like ludo for the children but there are no provisions for outdoor games and sports activities for them.
The law for mandating sports activities and making public facilities for CWSNs leaves space for interpretation and is not clear, Bharadwaj said. When the act mentions inclusivity for public facilities, it does not say how a CWSN can visit a swimming pool in their residential area and look for inclusive infrastructure. Hence, stating inclusion in sports activities without specific requirements or suggestions, does not help much, added Bharadwaj.
Hence, exclusion from these activities leaves the students with feelings of not being able to do something that others can. Moreover, they start overthinking that they cannot do many things like these, Bharadwaj said. This further leads to aggression, depression and other psychological, physical health impacts, he said.
Yashvi Sadiwala, a physiotherapist said, “Sports activities are important for these children because in some cases their physical movement is anyway restricted. Hence, no activity can lead to obesity and dullness among CWSNs. This will further make them vulnerable to diseases like juvenile diabetes, hypertension, blood pressure and cardiac problems because their organ systems are already compromised.”
“Some CWSNs have low Intelligent Quotient (IQ), attention span or concentration levels. Hence, activities like basic catching and throwing balls could help them understand coordination and directions thus increasing their alertness which is compromised initially in some cases. Playing sports can boost their confidence level about their inclusion in the society,” Sadiwala said.
“Sports activities could be beneficial for developing better reflexes and brain-body connections,” said Gayatri Swaminathan, a clinical psychologist. “Further, the social skills develop better when children are around with other students working on the same task together. Psychologically, happy hormones and endorphins are released when children are involved in such activities leading to positivity,” she said.
“The psychological and physical health go hand in hand and avoiding sports activities could lead to less exploration of their capabilities leaving them feeling low,” Swaminathan added. “If they do not get the much exposure, they would not be able to develop better ideas of self-worth and confidence because they are dealing with social stigmas around their disabilities anyway,” she said.
Bharadwaj said that the funds are allocated for the working of various associations like the paralympic association and others. If there is a way to align certain academies with the schools for conduction of sports activities, it would be a starting point.
Moreover, there could be an employment generation programme wherein people with disabilities who have expertise in sports could be coaches in schools with CWSNs, Bharadwaj said.
Sadiwala said that innovative sports activities could be designed for particular CWSNs based on their specific disability for better inclusion.
Certain special schools have cricket teams and India’s cricket team of the blind is the world champion, said Dey. There is now also blind lawn tennis that is played but it is still new and requires more of awareness for people to recognize it.