In the literature review and empirical data of this study a wide range of factors were identified that influence participation in physical exercise and sport and the quality of the experience.
Personal-level factors include personal knowledge and information; interest and inclination; motivation; physical literacy skills attained in school and in other settings; abilities; attitudes and beliefs. Personal level factors are influenced by and interact with socio-ecological factors at the level of home, workplace and community.
Socio-ecological factors are manifold and include the attitudes, beliefs, hobbies and interests of significant others including those of family and peers; the general culture e.g. a culture of being spectators rather than participants; the nature of local facilities and services - their existence, first of all and, then - their social and physical accessibility and affordability.
What is on offer around the country for people with disabilities varies. While opportunities are on the increase they are ad hoc and are developing at an uneven pace. There is commitment on the part of individuals and groups in Ireland to increase participation in sport and physical activity and to ensure a quality experience. The major drawback is that this work is insufficiently co-ordinated. Small isolated units of mostly voluntary effort do not have the voice or the capacity to draw down resources and establish structures on a professional, long-term basis.
The difference between Ireland and other countries profiled in this report is that in Ireland the transition from policy to the co-ordinated implementation of policy remains in the very early stages. In other countries practical steps have already been taken towards the establishment of a united voice or platform. In each of these countries the structures that are being put in place vary but, with a united front, effective partnerships are being developed that have begun to deliver equal opportunities and inclusion. There have been significant developments in establishing more integrated, professional approaches that have accelerated progress towards more widespread access, quality experiences and sports equity for people with disabilities. In Ireland no clear national structures have yet been set up to ensure equity for people with disabilities in terms of access and quality experiences in sport and physical exercise. The fragmented nature of sport and physical activity structures and services in Ireland are further affected by other factors. These include a lack of knowledge and preparation on the part of professionals and service providers on how to address diverse need. There is often a lack of personal experience of sport and physical exercise and physical literacy on the part of many parents and adults. Ireland needs to build up a sport and physical activity structure and system where people can access opportunity, expertise and the support that they require in an organised and systematic manner at every stage of their life, from birth to old age.
The Technical Advisory Group of the NCTC in their consultation paper, Building Pathways in Irish Sport (2002), also point out the need to establish an integrated sport system that is geared towards the well-being of the entire population in terms of health, physical activity, fitness and performance. One of the central messages from those working in the field of sport and physical activity is the need for stronger leadership at the highest levels in Ireland to ensure that co-ordinated and integrated structures are put in place.
Leadership is required to bring together, in an effective manner, the considerable efforts, usually made on a voluntary basis, of so many individuals and groups. These efforts include those of parents, teachers and community workers together with the efforts of schools, community and statutory bodies and government departments. Leadership is essential to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are addressed in every physical activity and sports programme and that the NGBs of sport and educational and leisure bodies provide inclusive services.
In interviews with professionals working in the field of physical activity, sport and leisure, respondents considered that while there is some funding available for projects that facilitate sport for the "disadvantaged", meeting the needs of people with a disability should not be dependent on "special" projects and on people being present who have an interest or the expertise to set up projects and to apply for their funding (Some respondents spoke about the considerable bureaucracy of agencies such as the ISC and the amount of paper work involved in making applications).
Addressing the needs of people with disabilities and other "minorities" should not rely only on the presence of motivated and committed individuals in any local agency be it the LSP, the County Council or other local organisations or groups who lobby the LSP/ISC for project funding or attempt fund raising themselves. Some LSPS have done or are carrying out physical activity and sports needs assessments of people with disabilities in conjunction with other agencies including the health boards on the physical activity and sports needs of people with disabilities - these include Donegal Sports Partnership, Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership and Limerick Sports Partnerships. Such activity would usefully be carried out nation wide and not on an ad hoc basis. This could be undertaken in a strategic manner given the laying down of some ground rules by the ISC.
The Irish Sports Council (ISC) could assume a more pivotal leadership role. Through the Local Sports Partnerships (LSPs) and the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of Sport, the ISC could strategically influence at national and local level. Awareness of issues that must be tackled could be increased and the provision of opportunities for all in sport and physical activity could be promoted. Interviewees in this research argued for a stronger, more clearly defined role for the ISC. It is important to note that, at the present time, LSPs are not in place nationwide. It is therefore important that the ISC and the NGBs work with all the pertinent local bodies including County Councils, County Development Boards and sports/recreation departments.
The ISC funds NGBs of Sports including disability specific NGBs of Sport. It has also established the LSPs with the remit of developing sport locally. The existence of the LSPs should accelerate the work of the City/County Development Boards (CDBs) and other local agencies to improve sport and leisure provision in a strategic way. However, in the absence of clear guidelines, frameworks and targets, development is likely to be ad hoc. When responsibilities and targets are not clearly outlined, developments tend to depend on the presence of interested individuals with sufficient know-how within national bodies, LSP areas or within the LSPs themselves.
The NDA commissioned research in 2004 on the disability commitments in the City/County Development Board Strategy Plans and Actions. Membership of the CDBs is from local government, local development organisations, state agencies and social partners. Each CDB published a ten-year strategy in 2002. Targeted disability actions in sports and leisure action were planned on the part of five CDBs and mainstream disability actions in sports and leisure on the part of eight CDBs from a total of thirty-four CDBs (Pillinger, 2004).
The ISC is in a position, together with the LSPS it has created, and with the NGBS of sport, to ensure quality experiences for all through strategic action at national, regional and local level. While the ISC articulate a vision it would be helpful if their vision were accompanied by a clear strategy that outlines how the vision will become a reality. The three pillars/goals of the Irish Sports Council strategy are participation, performance and excellence. While organisations applying for funding must demonstrate how they are striving for each of these three goals, there are no guidelines that outline what this actually means and what exactly is required from the NGBs of sport. Neither is there yet a framework by which LSPS can translate good will and commitment into coordinated planning and delivery to ensure equality and equity in development plans. There is no sports development officer for people with disabilities in the ISC or in the LSPs apart from Laois LSP where in May 2005 a development officer has been appointed to promote sport and physical activity for people with disabilities.
The ISC, the NGBs of sport, the LSPs, County Councils etc should cooperate at every level in order to provide organised and coordinated, appropriate physical activity, active leisure and sport opportunities for all. Working strategically together they could promote co-ordination and co-operation between local clubs and associations so that all are encouraged to engage in active leisure and sports. This could eliminate rivalries that currently exist between different associations, clubs and NGBs of sport. They can co-operate in order to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in sport and physical activity in local clubs and leisure centres. Together they can increase awareness of the benefits of sport and physical activity and increase participation in physical activity for all.
The ISC have developed the designated areas initiative to help combat the problems of drug abuse, crime and social exclusion, particularly in areas of social and economic disadvantage through participation in sport. In a similar manner, the ISC could demonstrate strongly and strategically its belief in the rights and ability of people with disabilities. It could do this by a commitment to develop strategies and rules and regulations based on equity and equality principles. This commitment to facilitating the participation of everybody could be expressed by appointing a development officer for people with disabilities who would work with LSPS and Sports NGBs.
In the plans that are drawn up to encourage and increase participation in physical activity and sport across different sectors and contexts, it is imperative that the situation of people with disabilities is considered and that appropriate opportunities are planned and targets monitored. For every goal set it must be clearly stated how it is to be achieved by people with disabilities. For example, a goal of the Health Promotion Strategy 2000-2005 was to achieve a 50% increase in the proportion of the population who adhere to regular physical activity. It is important that ongoing monitoring of this target is documented. Similarly, the strategies of all agencies must outline how they include people with disabilities.
In terms of increasing participation in physical activity and sport the focus should ideally start with widespread community participation - participation for all. Again the success of the Welsh efforts at increasing participation by improving community programmes is striking. Many sports associations focus on selecting out individuals with talent for elite sport at the highest level. Associations, instructors, coaches and teachers need to be able to work with those who will be interested principally in recreational exercise as well as those participating in competitive sport. They have to be able to modify programs to meet specific needs and to be supportive and patient with those who take longer to learn. This requires skills. Physiotherapists or other adequately trained professionals may need to work closely with fitness and recreation professionals to develop appropriate physical activity programmes for individual clients. In the USA and in other countries physiotherapists are increasingly found in local fitness centres and in public leisure centres and community centres.
Schools, community programmes, clubs, gyms and leisure centres have to ensure access. Everyone needs to be trained to enable access for all sections of the population. Different sectors of the population have different requirements in order to access a facility and it is up to staff to provide an adequate service. "If a place or activity is not conducive to understanding the choices available, then, it is not a fully accessible environment" (Devas, 2003, p. 234). As in other areas, in the field of travel and active leisure, when tourism and leisure operators learn to think "inclusion", they are able to make the requisite changes to cater for all sectors of the population quite easily. Participation in the Excellence through Accessibility Award Scheme (National Disability Authority and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform) should be encouraged as it leads to knowledge about and implementation of best practice.
Service providers who participated in the study pointed out that there is a real need for professionals to learn to pool skills and to work together. It is pointless working alone when teamwork can lead to a better and more effective working environment and to better outcomes for the clients. Physiotherapists and other adequately trained professionals can work closely with fitness and recreation professionals to develop physical activity programmes that are tailored to the needs of individual clients. In the USA and other countries physiotherapists are increasingly found in local fitness centres and in public leisure centres and community centres. Occupational therapists and physiotherapists ideally work with other service providers and clients benefit from well co-ordinated plans that optimise their physical potential. Conflicting advice from professionals can be detrimental to the progress of an individual or to the development of a child. It can be a source of distress to parents and competent professionals. In these situations parents may turn to alternative private therapists including primary movement therapists. It can be difficult to access information on the services they provide, which can be very varied and costly.
Teachers, parents and people with disabilities repeatedly raised the issue of improving Physical Education (PE). Dissatisfaction with PE concurs with the literature. "As a primary school teacher I would be extremely worried about the lack of work done with young children on their basic motor skills. PE is not an area a lot of teachers feel comfortable teaching and therefore it is often left undone" (response to consultation by NCTC on the importance of the fundamental stage, 2001 http://www.nctc.ul.ie). Good experiences in primary school are essential as it is important that children learn to enjoy physical activity and sport from the beginning. The nature of the education and training in physical education provided in primary and secondary school teacher education and training (as well as in leisure and sports management courses and other relevant childcare, healthcare and social care courses) influences the quality and inclusiveness, or lack of it, of physical activity and sport experiences across all sectors of the population.
Children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers should develop physical literacy that contributes to the development of lifelong attitudes and patterns of participation in physical activity and sport. In order to ensure that children attain physical literacy the needs of each child must be identified. As there are increasing numbers of students with disabilities in mainstream classes primary school teachers who, in Ireland, deliver the PE curriculum, and secondary school PE teachers, require training in the provision of inclusive (sometimes called adapted) physical activity in the PE curriculum.
In Boland's Irish study (2005) the theme that the abilities of people with disabilities can be underestimated emerged: "maybe people with disabilities are not getting the challenge they deserve to get". Similarly, Kenny (2005) considers the need for teachers to focus on the potential and abilities of students with disabilities and challenge them: "Underpinning inadequate educational responses is a simplistic perception of students with disabilities. The system lacks ambition for them; indeed at times it is even suspicious of their right to recognition as young people with highly varied potential and needs. Often, in the absence of system commitment to providing adequate and appropriate supports, participants had to rely on the kindness of individual peers and teachers...Happily, most of the participants at some time met good teachers; some of them were fortunate enough to have found good schools. However, ad hoc responses are grossly inadequate" (Kenny et al, 2005, p.234).
Children and young adults with a disability who meet teachers who are unable to adapt instruction and programmes according to individual need are highlighting the deficiencies in our educational system. The basic skills required to ensure inclusion are those of competent educators. Inclusive education involves a person-centred, inter-cultural and integrated educational approach that validates the experience of all students. As populations become more and more heterogeneous the needs of children are varying much more widely so an individual approach to each and every child is becoming more urgent. The many techniques and approaches essential for children with a disability are also best for all children.
Associations, instructors, coaches and teachers have to be able to modify programs to meet specific needs and to be supportive and patient with those who take longer to learn. They need to be able to work with those interested in recreational exercise as well as those participating in competitive sport. In terms of community participation the focus should firstly be on participation for all and this requires inclusive skills. Many associations focus only on selecting individuals with talent for elite sport at the highest level. The NCTC in conjunction with a number of disability federations has developed a disability awareness module. However, there would seem to be too little progress on implementing this training within NGBs although it is a stated requirement. The module covers some basic Inclusive or Adapted Physical Activity (APA) issues. An APA module would ideally be a compulsory component of every course from Level 1 upwards. NGBs need to use this module and the NCTC need to vigorously promote the implementation of disability awareness training.
Respondents involved in sport and physical activity provision for people with disabilities suggested that there is a need to work at being able to provide a pathways type approach for each person. Pathways for people with disabilities from the age of six years must be developed. For this teachers and coaches need the ongoing education and training so that people with disabilities can access expertise in order to plan individually - tailored programmes. Again, the NCTC has an important role to play in developing pathways and ensuring equity and equality nationwide.
Some primary school teachers only receive training in PE during their first year of training. In primary schools there are often large numbers of children to teacher ratio and sometime poor facilities and equipment. In the primary school curriculum physical education is generally allotted one hour a week. In practice, it is often less than that.
While new physical education curricula have been developed for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland and have begun to be implemented in the primary schools further changes are required. Without adequate improvements in the provision of physical education curricula in both quality and quantity in primary and secondary schools a certain level of physical literacy on the part of all students will not be attained.
There is a need to elaborate learning experiences and methods of assessment that reflect the active, multi-layered and developmental nature of learning physical skills and that facilitate individuals in discovering their interests and abilities (Kirke, 2001).
There is a need to increase the time given to physical education in the curricula, to improve its status in the curriculum and to increase PE resources. There should be a commitment to finding the time that should be dedicated to physical activity in school curricula.
There is a need to expand the physical education training of primary school teachers and PE teachers to include training in inclusive/adapted physical activity so that they can address individual need and are able to develop individual pathways for the development of skills of all students. What is also important in this context is the potentially crucial role of the special needs assistant in facilitating participation and quality experiences. How best to manage the relationship between teacher and the special needs assistant in order to best utilise the personnel is available is an important area of study.
How the quality participation of students with disabilities in PE programmes is to be achieved in both mainstream and special schools is a task that must be addressed by the educational bodies involved, including the NCCA and the newly established National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which was established as an independent statutory body following the Education Act 1998 and to which the transfer of functions from the Department of Education and Science took effect in January 2005. There is a task to be undertaken by it in relation to adequate PE provision for people with disabilities. Teachers pointed out that better use of the NCCA draft guidelines for teachers of students with learning disabilities is a practical pathway that should not be neglected. Training on the use of the guidelines should be implemented. Draft guidelines are also required for teachers of students with physical disabilities. Students with disabilities should be informed regarding physical activity and sport as a legitimate area of study or career development for them.
Comprehensive inclusive physical activity/APA is not yet a reality in primary teacher training, in PE teacher training, in many leisure and sports management courses or in postgraduate specialities in Sports Science and Physical Education. While it makes sense that all those taking PE and sport and leisure management courses would receive comprehensive inclusive training, this is happening only very gradually, although there are also well- established examples of best practice. The development of inclusive or adapted physical activity as an academic discipline has been slow but there are new developments. New inclusive or adapted physical activity modules are being introduced into the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) Curriculum in the University of Limerick. Adapted Physical Activity Modules are being introduced into the sports and leisure management courses in Dublin City University and a lecturer has been appointed in adapted physical activity in DCU in association with Stewarts Hospital. These are welcome developments as it is crucial that the large and ever increasing number of people graduating from primary school teacher training, PE teacher training and the various sport and leisure management courses receive appropriate education and training in inclusive/adapted physical activity. Ideally, inclusive/adapted physical activity would be introduced into all physical activity, sport and leisure studies and into primary teaching and PE courses so that primary and secondary teachers and providers of sport and active leisure would learn how to provide integrated physical activity and sports programmes.
Kenny et al (2005) who have carried out research with students with disabilities, state, "Development of an inclusive ethos and provision of adequate supports are ethical imperatives above all because they are a human right and necessity - as is proven by the drastic impact of their absence on the social lives of these young people. Whatever their academic status, people with disabilities live in society and are entitled to be full members of it, especially of their peer group... This focus on the social dimension of the participants experience powerfully highlights the ethical urgency of the task of transforming our overall education system, schools ethos, built environment and pedagogic resources and procedures to ensure inclusive education, informed by ambition for all students" (Kenny et al, 2005, p.234, 235). Appropriately trained people with a disability working in the fields of PE, sport and active leisure have a role to play in ensuring inclusive education and services.
In a recent report "School children and sport in Ireland" by Fahy et al (2005) the dual responsibility of education policy and sport policy for children's sport is highlighted. The authors ask how the two sides of this policy structure should relate to each other in order to promote childrens' physical development.