Taking disabled children away from the sidelines

Access to sport and recreation is not only every child’s right, but it has an incredible ripple effect which can impact other vital sectors like health and education

Related Topics

Mouayyed spent the first nine years of his life watching his friends from the sidelines. 

He was banned from taking part in PE classes in his school near Souf in Jordan simply because he is a wheelchair user.  Teachers said they couldn’t cater for him.  Sporting facilities are generally limited in the country and the participation of marginalised children – like Mouayyed – incredibly rare, mostly as a result of misunderstanding and stigma.

The 2012 Paralympics in London were a game-changer for disabled people in the UK and around the world.  Their success challenged perceptions about what people with different physical and mental capabilities can do and demonstrated the incredible power generated when we all unite behind inclusion.  However, nearly one year on, we have urgent work to do to bridge the gap between changing minds and changing lives for the long term.  UNICEF’s new State of the World’s Children report, released today, reveals that tens of millions of disabled children are still struggling simply to survive and thrive.  The research finds that they are often last in line for vital services like healthcare and education and are up to four times more likely to be subject to violence than their peers.

The report also highlights a hidden link between malnutrition and disability.  For example, each year up to half a million children are at risk of going blind, purely because they don’t consume enough Vitamin A.  Furthermore, disabled children are at risk of becoming under-nourished.  This can be because of the types of conditions they have. For example, cerebral palsy can cause problems with chewing and swallowing, while cystic fibrosis affects the body’s absorption of nutrients. But the report also suggests that disabled children are often hidden away from feeding programmes because of shame and stigma.  

The situation for disabled children has to change.  I am supporting UNICEF projects as part of my role as an Ambassador for International Inspiration – the international legacy programme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games run by UNICEF and others – which is helping to engage disabled children around the world in sport and play.  I am a firm believer that access to sport and recreation is not only every child’s right, but it has an incredible ripple effect which can impact other vital sectors like health and education.  When disabled children are included, it helps to raise their standing and encourages general acceptance and understanding.  

As part of my role, I had the chance to travel to Jordan to launch the programme in the country.  Thanks to its success, Mouayyed – the boy who was always forced to miss PE classes – took part in sports sessions with his friends for the very first time.  He was overflowing with enthusiasm and could not stop talking about how good it felt.  It was a small step, but one with an enormous personal and public impact.  On a policy level the Ministry of Education jumped on board with the project, identifying training materials and resources for PE teachers and classes.  Social media and TV were used to bring the inclusion message to a wider audience.

This change is not just happening in Jordan.  Young lives are being  transformed through sport and play from Azerbaijan to Zambia – and we need to do everything we can to support the process.  We have a range of opportunities to do so.  Just last week I gave evidence to the Commons Select Committee on making physical education available to all children, including those with disabilities, in order to improve lives and health bills.  On June 8, at the ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit, the British Government has the opportunity to commit further funds to tackling malnutrition and its effects – which could have a huge effect on disabled children around the world.

Children like Mouayyed have incredible potential and by including them in society we all benefit.  It’s not enough just to talk about transformation; we need to achieve it.  We must seize on the inspiration of events like the Paralympics to fight discrimination and create lasting change for hundreds of millions of children worldwide. 

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own