Isn’t this Inclusion?

Dec 04, 2014
Tagged with: Isn't this Inclusion?

I often fill this space with analogies and examples from the undergraduate sport sociology course that I teach at James Madison University. I do that because that educational setting is representative of the rate at which society is slowly—but surely—educating itself on disability matters as the disability rights movement unfolds before our very eyes.

In the class, we talk about the things you’re not supposed to talk about. Things like race, gender, ethnicity, religion, politics, ability levels—and how they all relate to sport. In the unit on gender and sport, students have a basic understanding of how Title IX has worked to provide equal opportunity for women in higher educational settings, particularly in sport. They know a little about how women’s sport was completely ignored for decades, and although legally required to be on equal footing at the high school and collegiate levels, continues to suffer through its discriminatory battles.

We watch the film “42: The Jackie Robinson Story” and discuss how life for black athletes—and black people in general—in the 1940s was hell, in many instances across the South. We also discuss modern-day issues that intertwine race with sport.

And while we see examples of unequal treatment toward women and black Americans from our country’s tattered past, we chuckle at the thought of those excuses once given to prevent women or black people from participating on equal footing, particularly in sport.

“Women can’t play sport because the physical activity will damage their possibilities of bearing children,” men once cried. Ha! What a stupid thought that is now (and research has proven its ignorance) scorned. Women’s sport may not be covered equally or receive the same funding and sponsorship deals. There may be giant discrepancies between men’s and women’s sport that still exist. But sociological walls have been torn down.

“Black people can’t play sport alongside white people; this is just a white man’s game,” men once cried. Ha! What a stupid thought that is now scorned. Some of our most celebrated professional and college athletes in America are black.

Yet, we hear those similar excuses when we begin to speak about sport being fully inclusive of people with and without disabilities.

“People with disabilities can’t play alongside able-bodied athletes. They’ll get hurt. They’re crutches will hurt other players. This is an able-bodied athlete’s game.”

I’ve heard those words. A colleague of mine who walks with crutches was kept off a youth soccer field because of those words.

We laugh about how stupid those excuses were with regards to race and gender some 60, 70, 80 years ago. So how much longer will it take for our society to realize those same words are equally stupid as an excuse to keep disability and non-disability separate and unequal?

Wheelchair basketball for people with and without disabilities? What a concept!

Beep baseball or goalball for people of all sight levels? Wow!

Wheelchair rugby as an intramural sport in college? I know many students who would not play—because they’re afraid to get hurt, not because of the stigma.

So when a colleague and I recently introduced some college students to wheelchair basketball and later asked if they would actually play the game if offered at our campus recreation facility, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” Students in my classes have also indicated they would participate in an event like that if offered.

Like many of my colleagues in this discipline, I envision a day when we can all make that cool Guinness beer commercial a reality, where anybody, with any level of ability, can play any sport, with anybody else.

Isn’t that inclusion?

Author: Josh pate