Community Participation in sport and physical activity for people with disabilities
National Coordination – Local Provision
Though always somewhere on the periphery, Adapted Physical Activity (APA) really came to the fore
in 2005. A culmination of events led to the conclusion that a coordinated approach to the
development of physical activity for people with a disability was needed into the future. This was the
United Nations International Year of Sports and Physical Education and prompted various
organisations around the world to look at the provision of sport, physical activity and physical
education for people with disabilities. The NDA Annual Report 2005 indicated that people with a
disability were, among other things, less likely to be physically active, more likely to experience poor
health and more restricted in socialising outside the home. Specifically, the NDA report on the
participation of people with disabilities in sport and physical activity (2005) highlighted issues that
needed to be addressed if everyone was to attain their potential in and through physical activity or
“There is nothing for people with disabilities, well there is very little, especially for physical disabilities anyway”
The Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) have always included an element of adapted physical activity
in their third level undergraduate programmes in Health and Leisure Studies. As far back as 1997,
local organisations have been working with students and lecturers at the college. In 2003, Tralee IT
hosted the first ever Adapted Physical Activity Conference. This was followed by the conference in
2005 which again focused on practical ways of improving service provision in Ireland. It was at this
conference that the merits of the Sports Inclusion Disability Officer (SIDO) were first aired based on a
model which had been working well in Wales. In Ireland, a working example was the Disability
Officer, Garrett Culliton, who was in place within Laois Local Sports Partnership since 2006. In
essence, the SIDO concept was based on a model of national coordination which was working
effectively in Wales and the local provision which was successful in Laois.
In November 2007, supported by the Irish Sports Council and the Institute of Technology Tralee, the
CARA National Adapted Physical Activity Centre was established. The main aim of the CARA APA
Centre was to facilitate an increase in the number of people with disabilities participating in sport,
physical activity and physical education through increasing opportunities to participate, improving
access, providing information on and organising and delivering training. Additionally the CARA APA
Centre was established to undertake and coordinate research, support APA developments at third
level institutions and other relevant courses and assist in the developments of both local and
national sport and physical activity strategies. To enable the CARA APA Centre achieve its main aim
the following objectives were developed.
(1) To facilitate and support the work of the Sports Inclusion Disability Programme within the Local
Sports Partnership structure throughout Ireland.
(2) To develop as a National Resource Centre working in partnership with Local Sports Partnerships,
the National Coaching and Training Centre, National Governing Bodies, Disability Organisations,
National Disability Authority, Schools, International links and other relevant sporting organisations.
The foundations were now laid for the roll out of the SIDO Programme which followed in due course.
Over the coming months 21 SIDO’s took up positions in 20 Local Sports Partnerships across the
country. Funding had been secured in 2006 through An Pobail – Dormant Accounts. A sum of two
million euro was earmarked for this two year national programme to address the imbalance in
opportunities available to people with a disability to participate in sport and physical activity.
Objectives were clearly defined for this initial two year period in order that the focus be maintained
(1) Establish links with key agencies and access current provision.
(2) Promote the SIDO programme and the benefits of participation to individuals with disabilities.
(3) Assess and provide support to existing clubs/groups that offer sport and physical activity
opportunities for people with disabilities.
(4) Establish sports and activity clubs for people with disabilities.
The CARA National APA Centre supported and coordinated the work of the 21 SIDO’s on a national
level. Local work programmes were submitted to the centre by each SIDO and after the initial two
year period a significant increase could be seen in the number of people with a disability
participating in sport and physical activity on a local, regional and national level. 4521 individuals had
engaged with the SIDO programme on the ground – reinstating the effectiveness of local provision in
motivating and engaging people to participate at some level.
“The imaginative way in which the equipment was adapted facilitated individuals who had never been engaged
in similar activities to be active in a fun and participative way.”
Adapted Physical Activity had spread across the country from the hub in IT Tralee. With the
enthusiastic support of local disability groups and organisations, Adapted Physical Activity moved
from the periphery to the forefront for many people with a disability. Opportunities to participate in
sports such as Powerchair football, wheelchair hurling and boccia were available and activities such
as aqua aerobics, karate and yoga became weekly fixtures for people with disabilities on leisure
centre timetables. The benefits of physical activity were clear to be seen and within that two year
period over 4500 people were provided with opportunities to participate in quality sport and
physical activity programmes.
“Along with improved fine motor skills, increased self-esteem and an added sense of involvement, the service
users get great enjoyment from the SIDO programmes.”
Five years on and we find ourselves in an altogether different place. The Irish Sports Council (ISC) has
given its commitment to the development of sports and physical activity for people with disabilities
into the future. This was reinforced in 2009 as the two year funding stream from An Pobail came to
an end. The ISC stepped in with funding ensuring that developments of the past two years can
continue into the future. Under the now, National Sports Inclusion Disability Programme, every Local
Sports Partnership has a responsibility to provide opportunities for people with a disability in the
The CARA APA Centre is currently undergoing expansion in the area of training and education. It is
envisaged to have a training and education officer in position by the end of 2010. This will enable the
CARA APA Centre to develop its remit further as a national resource centre, supporting and
standardising training and education delivery in the provision of sport, physical activity and PE for
people with disabilities. This is a development which will put the centre at the forefront of European
and international developments in the area of APA.
In addition the CARA APA Centre in conjunction with the Institute of Technology Tralee and the Irish
Sports Council has organised a number of National Adapted Physical Activity Conferences, and most
recently have commenced planning a one day National APA Conference in 2011 in the run up to
their successful bid to host the European Conference in APA in 2012.
In 2010, a new steering committee was established for the National Sports Inclusion Disability
Programme. Members on this committee represent a range of organisations including Special
Olympics Ireland, Irish Sports Council, Local Sports Partnerships, CARA Centre/IT Tralee, Paralympic
Council of Ireland, Irish Wheelchair Association, Cerebral Palsy Sport Ireland and People with
Disability Ireland (PWDI). The objectives of the programme were re-evaluated and consultation with
all parties resulted in a new series of actions being developed:
- Increase and sustain participation of people with a disability.
Given that the SIDO programme achieved such successful heights in its first two years the first action
is vital as we move forward. The aim is to maintain the levels of participation achieved to date whilst
increasing the number of people who are not already engaged. There is a lot of work done but
subsequently a lot left to achieve.
- Develop team sports.
This will be achieved through working together with local service providers, NGB’s and regionally
with other LSP’s. The success of various sports will differ from region to region as the demographic
of the population and popularity of sports will in many cases determine successful development.
- Inclusive Leisure Centre participation.
Leisure Centres be they private or under local authorities have cropped up across the country as the
fitness industry remains one of the most successful remnants of the Celtic Tiger. Inclusive
participation will involve the further training of staff in the area of disability awareness and adapting
programmes to suit people with a disability. Facilities are more often than not accessible to some
degree given that many centres have been built in recent years. ILAM, the Irish Leisure Industry
Body, have an accessibility awards system whereby centres are awarded “flags” once they have
achieved standards of accessibility.
“I think it (the programme) was an excellent way to find how people with disabilities can exercise... It definitely
should be done again”
- Facilitating and developing training and education workshops.
This action has been a focus of the programme from the very beginning and needs to continue into
the future locally and regionally.
- Deliver training to Non SIDO LSPs
All LSP’s do not have a SIDO in place but each LSP has a representative who when possible attends
regional meetings. This process will ensure all LSP’s are informed as to what is happening in their
area. SIDO’s have a responsibility to link in with Non SIDO LSP’s with regards to delivering training
modules in that area.
- National and Local Promotion of the SIDO Programme.
Promotion is the key to engaging more people in the activities of the programme. Many of the LSP’s
have a media strategy – locally programmes are promoted through print media and radio. On a
national level, contributions are made to NGB websites, national newsletters, the CARA National
APA Centre and other media outlets. This must continue with vigor into the future in order to keep
APA to the fore.
- Partnering & Advocacy.
This programme was never a solo effort by one group or organisation. It s effectiveness lies in the
partnerships which have been established on a local and national level. Many organisations have
taken on an advocacy role through supporting and promotion of the Sports Inclusion Disability
It is the role of all involved with the programme to be constantly updating and informing one-self of
possible avenues or sources of funding for the coming years.
Looking forward to the next five years of APA development in Ireland, one can only see a
continuation of the work to date. With the National Conference in 2011 in the lead up to the
European Conference in 2012, Ireland has established itself as a player on the European stage. For
our elite athletes we have World Championships in the lead up to the Paraylmpics in London in 2012
and the honour of representing their country. We have just had our Special Olympics National
Games in the lead up to the World Special Olympics Summer Games in 2011 in Greece. And around
the country we have people with a disability participating in physical activity for the first time,
finding that sport which they enjoy, which they may have never thought they could enjoy - this all in
the lead up to life-long participation, healthier mind and body and inevitably community
“Through participating on the programme she has discovered and developed a love of physical activity....”
“His interpersonal skills have greatly improved, he is more confident and has a new zest for life that as a parent
is a pleasure to see..”
“I think I am more positive now. I believe I can do more things that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do”
*Quotations throughout from participants in the SIDO programme – service users, parents and