Physical activities are liberating for people with disabilities and good for their morale. Non-profit organisations make this possible in an inclusive way or with special offers.
‘Physical activities, such as those offered by Différences Solidaires (DS), allow me to go out into nature, meet people or experience sensations that I would not normally have,’ says Antoine. He mentions slides as an example. Antoine suffers from cerebral palsy. This term is used to summarise symptoms related to early childhood damage to the developing brain, which manifests itself, among other things, in movement disorders. When it comes to sports, he likes to take on challenges and surpasses himself every time. Enthusiastically, he says: ‘The freedom of movement makes me feel liberated.’ What he appreciates about sport with DS is the great atmosphere among the participants and the pilots.
Good for health, good for morale
Laurence suffers from myopathy, a muscle condition. ‘The opportunity to be physically active is very good for morale, to think about something other than your disability or illness,’ she points out. ‘You can let off steam. Escape. There’s an adrenaline rush if you like that .’ Jean-Luc, father of Lucille, a girl with physical disabilities, points out that ‘Lucille, as a person with multiple disabilities, mostly moves around only during therapy. Over the years, this becomes a bit tedious. Thanks to the adapted methods, she can exercise outdoors. The duration of the activity is often much longer and more pleasant than in physiotherapy.’ He says that Lucille learned about DS about 10 years ago during a conversation with a friend. The father emphasises that ‘thanks to the friend and DS, she has been practising adapted sports and outdoor activities for 10 years now’. It is important for her to meet friends and exercise: ‘Sport for her means meeting friends, independent exercise, a game, the experience of speed and the feeling of freedom.’ He believes it also has a therapeutic aspect. These athletes take up the advantages that Différences Solidaires offers.
With action and strength
DS was founded more than 12 years ago. ‘At that time, there were few opportunities for families with disabled members to participate in sport and leisure activities,’ says Alain Bigey, who is responsible for fundraising at DS. The association kicked off with a skiing project. One of the first activities was to train parents of disabled children or other interested parties. Until then, training was reserved for a minority. Then families were provided with the appropriate equipment. Bigey points out: ‘Our goal is to make the practice of sporting activities possible for all families. Today, more than 500 people benefit from our activities every year.’ The association’s managers want to be mobile in order to meet the needs of the beneficiaries wherever they are. In this way, they can help families and individuals organise their activities.
Breaking out of the usual daily patterns
Behinderten-Sport Club Zürich has been around for more than 60 years. The club is committed to providing the most attractive, varied and professionally supervised programme possible. ‘With our wide and varied offer on different days of the week, through regular sporting events and competitions, we want to promote the independence of our members,’ says Alain Thüring, technical director of the club The club’s offer helps athletes to break out of the habitual daily structures and maintain diverse social contacts. ‘The long-term inclusion of our members at a sporting, coaching or board level is our ultimate goal,’ says Thüring.
The Zurich club maintains a close collaboration with PluSport, the umbrella organisation for sport for the disabled, which offers a wide range of services. Together, they are committed to inclusion and engage in lobbying and sponsorship activities at local and regional level. Thüring emphasises: ‘It is important that we keep membership fees as low as possible.’
Reaching out to young people
For membership recruitment, word-of-mouth and a direct approach to institutions for disabled people have traditionally been the most successful methods. This is also reflected in the age structure of the active members, says Thüring: ‘We want to make better use of modern channels, such as social media, to reach our younger target group.’ He explains that the greatest hurdle is that potential athletes communicate or perceive information on a different level depending on their disability. This makes it extremely difficult to address many people together. As with all people, the challenge is to conquer one’s weaker self. He believes that it is important to recognise that sport and exercise are a source of well-being, even inspiration, that enable social contact, rather than a necessary evil. ‘As a consequence and post-effect of the pandemic, we have also observed an increased reluctance by residential homes and institutions to let their residents participate in externally organised activities.’
Promoting integration and inclusion
On 15 April 2014, Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). PluSport has developed the corresponding measures and a vision: ‘People with disabilities are an equal and self-determined part of society. PluSport’s sport, exercise and service offers promote equality and significantly contribute to an inclusive society.’ Regula Muralt, Head of Marketing & Fundraising at PluSport, says: ‘PluSport’s core focus is to develop suitable offers for all people interested in exercise and sport, and also to promote and advance integration and inclusion with mainstream sport.’ In view of the social changes and movements in the Swiss sport system, the call for complete openness to engage in inclusion in sport is becoming increasingly louder. The development towards inclusion is happening at a tremendous pace in terms of cooperation efforts and awareness-raising work, says the marketing manager. She points out that there is still a need for classic, traditional offers, such as sports clubs and sports camps. PluSport, she says, strives to pursue and further expand both channels in an effective and targeted manner.
Efficient promotion of interests
PluSport is a strong umbrella organisation for sports for the disabled. It is the competence centre for sport, disability and inclusion. ‘We promote access to a diverse range of sports and physical activity for all,’ says Muralt, ‘and we ensure a closed chain of support ranging from offers for junior or recreational athletes to high-performance sports.’ She explains that the association strengthens and supports its more than 80 member clubs and ensures effective sport operations in all regions of Switzerland. PluSport is a member of Swiss Olympic and together with Rollstuhlsport Schweiz (RSS) is also a founder of the Swiss Paralympic Committee.
The need to improve inclusion in elite sport
When it comes to performance-oriented sport for people with disabilities, PluSport Spitzensport is responsible for seamless development. ‘The support chain is guaranteed from the grassroots with promotion of young athletes to the top level,’ says Muralt. ‘We support and promote disabled children, teenagers and adults in elite sport. Our athletes participate in national and international competitions, such as the Paralympics.’ Synergies with non-disabled sport are sought whenever possible. However, Switzerland is lagging behind in international comparison due to a lack of government investment in top-level para-sport. This makes the professional training and further education of leaders and helpers all the more important. Muralt points out that this is guaranteed, as well as individual programmes and projects with cooperation partners. She explains: ‘As a publisher of highly professional and didactic teaching materials, we ensure constant quality assurance at all levels.’ This is done in collaboration with the partner organisations Swiss Paraplegic Association (SPA) and Procap. The three organisations together form the interest group IG Sport und Handicap.