A SPORTING CHANCE:
Outdoor Sports for the Physically Challenged
September 3, 1998
Handicapped sports enthusiasts are taking to the skies. (Japan Sky-Sports Physically Disabled)
More and more people with physical handicaps are heading outdoors to enjoy sports--from scuba diving to yachting, hang gliding, and more. Volunteer activities to assist physically handicapped people have also been growing in both size and scale. These, combined with the impressive performance of the athletes in the recent Nagano Winter Paralympic Games, appear to have heightened the feeling among handicapped people that "I can do it, too!" An environment that allows people with physical handicaps to engage in all sports, however, is not yet in place--handicapped athletes face a lack of facilities that meet their needs, a shortage of qualified instructors, and many other problems.
Free as a Fish in the Sea
The organization running this program provides courses for people with physical handicaps and trains instructors. 200 physically handicapped people have already taken courses and obtained their diving certification cards. The organization has also trained about 40 instructors in the techniques needed to teach the sport to the physically disabled. It is much easier for people with physical handicaps to move in the water, making diving an ideal rehabilitation activity. But rehabilitation aside, an instructor with the organization says, "It's enough just getting people with physical handicaps to enjoy diving normally."
Yachting and Paragliding, Too
A volunteer organization started by aerial sports lovers at the end of 1997 is working to make the dream of flying come true for physically handicapped people. So far, the group has modified and motorized hang gliders and other flying equipment so that people in wheelchairs can ride them and conducted many test flights. The group plans to start using an airport in the Tohoku region of Japan in the near future to provide physically handicapped people with an opportunity to experience the thrill of flying.
Barrier-Free Participation is the Goal
Another problem is a shortage of qualified instructors. Although approximately 8,000 people have been certified as general sports instructors by the Japanese Sports Association for the Disabled, skilled instructors for specific sports are trained independently by athletic associations and volunteer groups. And custom-made sporting goods generally cost many times more than standard items. Much of the financial burden for this training and equipment is borne by the physically handicapped people and volunteers themselves. Legal and institutional restrictions, such as the physical criteria that must be met to obtain a boat operator's license, provide even more obstacles.
To remove these physical and institutional barriers, public awareness of the rights of people with physical handicaps must also be improved. Much remains to be done to allow the disabled to enjoy sporting activities as easily as everyone else.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.