Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Disability in Sport and at Work

The following was originally written as part of a project dealing with sport and disability.  With the recent Paralympics still fresh in everyone's minds it seems a good time to bring it to a wider audience.  Also the thought occurs that the arguments put forward for sport are equally true for employment too, bearing in mind the government's recent closure of many Remploy factories.
Generally speaking, human beings become disabled in three main ways;
  • From birth, with a consistent, unchanging disability.
  • From birth, with a degenerative condition.
  • Through trauma later in life.
In any demographic it is important not to generalise, however there will always be those who - whether born with their disability or who have it thrust on them through trauma, have varying degrees of self-confidence and strength of character.  Participative sport - especially that of a team based nature - and employment, have an important part to play in the recovery both mentally and physically of the individuals concerned.
It is self evident that those who have been victims of a recent trauma, and to a lesser extent those whose degenerative condition has advanced to a debilitating level, are likely to feel disenfranchised from the rest of society, as unlike those born with a disability it is not their normal condition.  One who is born with a permanent condition has no recollection of, for example, being able to walk and thus is unable to miss it and treats the current status quo as normal, which for them personally it is.
Enter sport and employment into the equation.  It has become increasingly commonplace to involve a degree of sport in the rehabilitation of trauma victims to aid their physical recovery.  However, whether the participant has become recently disabled or has been for many years, the introduction of sport into their lives can have a marked effect beyond that of the merely physical.  Equally true is the (re) introduction of employment to their lives.
One study in particular highlights the importance of sport for the disabled in several areas, namely;
(a) performance accomplishments and functional efficiency
(b) perceived self-efficacy
(c) self-concept and self-esteem
(d) personality disorders, mood states and locus of control
(e) activity level and social acceptance.
All the above elements will be affected to a greater or lesser degree by the individual's participation in competitive sport, however it is likely that b, c and particularly e will benefit specifically from team based activities.  Again engagement in employment tasks will furnish many of the same benefits. 
These issues and benefits hold true for all three of the original categories; those born with a permanent disability; degenerative; or those victim of a trauma. 
Returning to the areas of importance though; firstly the person will, simply through their involvement in the activity gain increasingly in performance accomplishments, as through time they will become more and more proficient in the skills required to perform the tasks required.  Their increased activity will lend a natural increased functional efficiency to their daily lives; they may find for example an increase in their hand-eye coordination, dexterity or in their stamina.
This will lead naturally to a perceived self-efficacy as they become aware that they are neither constrained, nor defined, by their disability, and that in fact it has opened up possibilities to them which may otherwise never have been available.  That is not to say the individual will embrace their disability - that is perhaps too strong a term - but their acceptance of their circumstances - whether recently altered or lifelong - is likely to be eased by the realisation that their life is not devoid of purpose due to their disability, rather it is an opportunity or challenge to be grasped and used to best advantage.
It is self evident that anyone, disabled or otherwise, who takes up a new interest - competitive sport or otherwise - will increase their activity level, whether it is Family History and they have to spend time visiting the library etc, or in more active pursuits such as cycling for pleasure.  This increased activity in itself will lead to an overall increase in the individual's level of fitness and general health.  Similarly, disabled or otherwise if one becomes involved in any activity outside the home there is a natural consequence that they will come into contact with others engaged in similar activities, and thus their social circle will increase. 
This is particularly the case both in participative sport and employment, where the individual concerned, even in single competitor events or tasks, will both train alongside and compete against/work with, others involved in the same sport/activity.  This is multiplied of course by the size of the team involved, and will introduce an element of cooperation into the picture.
The greatest element in sport and employment though will be the social element.  As proficiency grows the individual will find a greater feeling of self-esteem with the realisation that there is a trust between them and the other team members, and a reliance on them to fulfil their tasks toward the common goal of winning at the event.  Able-bodied people who are not disabled socialise outside their sport and/or workplace, and the disabled are no different in this respect; they too will enjoy each others' company outside the environment in which they work or play as well as the comradeship on it.
An extension of this social element is the probability of crossing what may to some be perceived as a boundary between those who are disabled and those not.  Particularly in a team which may mix those with congenital conditions and trauma victims, the latter will no doubt have friends and relatives who are not disabled who may be involved in any social gatherings; birthday parties; christenings; weddings.  This will lead naturally to those who may not have mixed socially with those who are not disabled - since their disability has been an issue for them - and afford both sides to forge new links of understanding, once more imbuing the disabled person with a feeling of greater self-worth and belonging.
The feeling of belonging, and more importantly of acceptance by others for who they are, is a key element of why team activities - sporting or employment - in particular are a valuable tool or resource for those involved in the rehabilitation of trauma victims and for those involved perhaps in a less medical role such as those who may run day-care centres.  They will be able to pinpoint those who attend their facilities who appear less inclined to engage with other visitors or members and be able to give guidance towards such activities that will aid the individual in achieving greater social awareness and involvement.
In summary then, irrespective of the genesis of the individual's current circumstances, there are those who will either find the transition back to their previous involvement in society difficult, or conversely have never had that involvement will find the prospect daunting.  Sports and employment can in a very real sense act as a catalyst to the process of them (re)engaging in society and providing a true quality of life.

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