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Equality, Dignity, and Independence through Sport

September 22, 2011

USICD's Esmé Grant with BlazeSports Members Angelica and Enrique Gomez

“Sport builds bodies and minds, promotes public health and instills important values, such as teamwork, fairness, inclusion, cooperation and communication.  It also teaches the importance of principles such as interdependence and respect.” – Charlotte McClain-Nhalpo, USAID Coordinator for Disability and Inclusive Development

 Although disability inclusion in sports has long been an international force, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the first legally binding instrument to address international standards of equal access and opportunity in sport.  The CRPD’s Article 30.5 addresses equal opportunity in sports participation and serves not only as a tool to advance inclusivity of athletics programs and venues, but also represents a meaningful shift within the disability rights movement.  While disability legislation has traditionally been based on medical and charitable models, the CRPD shifts disability rights to a social structure involving ideals of full integration, dignity and respect within all areas of society.  Sport crosses cultures, economic divides, ethnicities, and genders and is therefore the perfect catalyst for promoting the human rights of people with disabilities.

 This month, I had the honor of presenting on the CRPD at the 11thAnnual BlazeSports International Conference on Paralympic Sport and Physical Activity.  It was wonderful to work with an engaging audience and discuss how the treaty’s values of dignity, independence and respect are advanced by participation in sport.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to discuss Article 30.5’s approach to greater inclusivity of athletes with disabilities within the world of sports.  Not only does the CRPD promote access to mainstream sports, but it also requires that ratifying nations promote the creation and participation of disability-specific sporting activities.  This dual-track approach has been widely embraced in the athletic disability community, and has in fact allowed more fluidity for integration and inclusion within sports and society. 

A view of Atlanta, where the BlazeSports Conference was held

Following the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of BlazeSports members who relayed their personal connections with sports and the achievement of human rights derived from athletic competition.  Angelica and Enrique Gomez, parents of a child with cerebral palsy, inspired me with a story about their daughter who has fought for her right to play soccer and level the playing field in her town.  The Gomez family, in addition to supporting their daughter’s soccer team, now runs a gym in Georgia that offers rehabilitation services to a variety of people with disabilities, with the goal of helping them engage in society to their fullest potential.  I also spoke with Dr. Dan Ferguson of Pittsburg State University in Kansas and former professor of BlazeSports’ CEO, Carol Mushett Johnson.  Dr. Ferguson spoke of his work abroad, including in Romanian orphanages and throughout Mexico, and conveyed how essential it is for Americans to have a global recognition and influence on people with disabilities around the world. I also met with disabled veterans, international members of the Paralympic Committee, and other advocates who recognized a clear connection between human rights and access to social recreation.

I want to sincerely thank USICD Board Member, Ann Cody, for the invitation to present at BlazeSports’ annual conference.  Ann, a renowned Paralympian, and BlazeSports’ Director of Policy and Global Outreach, clearly understands the important implications for U.S. ratification of the CRPD and through her hard work, she is effectively championing this issue with athletes around the world. Our work at USICD will continue to be inspired by the community’s drive to achieve the values of the CRPD throughout the world, and in this case, through one sporting event at a time.

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