Giving the right to play to kids with & without disabilities – My Take by Sunil Bhatt, physical education expert
How do you adapt a competitive game like tennis or for that matter basketball in such a way that a disabled person can take part with full gusto? Adaptive physical education trainer Sunil Bhatt has devoted most of his life doing just that. In My Take this week, Bhatt explains what motivates him, and why an inclusive physical education curriculum benefits people with and without disabilities
I was active in sports from childhood and went on to become a national-level gymnast so my involvement in physical education was a natural progression. However, I found the approach in schools very oriented towards coaching and that set me thinking about reaching out to people with special needs. I felt there was growth and direction in this.
There was little awareness about this 10 years ago and few opportunities as well. I got an opportunity to work at a special needs school in Delhi called Palwanjali run by Shaloo Sharma. Around the same time, Camp America, which runs a variety of innovative cultural programs for kids around the world, was interviewing people in Delhi. When they heard of my interest in special needs, they offered to fund a three-month training program in the United States, followed by an internship.
That was an eye opener as I got exposed to working with people across a wide age group, ranging from toddlers to the elderly and also with a range of disabilities. Back home, I got the chance to apply these learnings at camps that Shaloo Sharma and I started, as well at the Step by Step School, where I joined as a teacher.
In our camps we divided kids into different levels and worked on their behaviours and soft skills. We also worked with smaller groups for competitive events. We started inclusive programs where we teamed 10 kids with disabilities with children who had no disabilities. This led to a major change in behaviours on the parts of both. There was a buddy system, where the kids with no disabilities took charge of those who had. What this led to was a major boost in confidence of the disabled kids. Their social skills improved as well.
“My experiences have led me to believe that with inclusion, even children with hidden disabilities like behavioural disorders tend to benefit. This led me to suggest to the CBSE board that a chapter on special needs be included in the physical education curriculum. I am happy to say that as of 2017, my suggestion was accepted and there is now a chapter called Differently Abled Sports”
Making it inclusive is not some great effort. It can be done by modifying the equipment we already have, like we show at our camps. We may not have the quality or range that countries like the U.S. have but that need not be a barrier.
My longterm vision is that every child in every schools gets physical education in a recreational way, not just competitively. Also at a competitive level, we need to build a system where people with all disabilities get a chance to take part.
Walk into any paralympic event and you see people with physical disabilities. You will never see someone with autism or Down syndrome or ADHD.
“I hope to set up a system where special needs of all kinds have a chance to take part in competitive sports. I have the fullest confidence that given the training, they are capable of beating mainstream able-bodied sportspersons”
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