While sport has value in everyone’s life, it is even more important in the life of a person with a disability. This is because of the rehabilitative influence sport can have not only on the physical body but also on rehabilitating people with a disability into society.

Furthermore, sport teaches independence. Nowadays, people with a disability participate in high performance as well as in competitive and recreational sport.

Sport for athletes with a disability has existed for more than 100 years. IIn the 18th and 19th centuries, contributions were made which proved that sport activities were very important for the re-education and rehabilitation of persons with a disability. After World War I, physiotherapy and sports medicine became as important as orthopaedic and internal surgery.

Sports clubs for deaf were already in existence in 1888 in Berlin. The world organization of sport for the deaf -CISS- was founded in 1922 and the deaf still organize their own world games, the Deaflympics.

Sport for people wwith a physical disability was introduced after World War ll, to assist the medical and psychological needs of the large number of injured ex-servicemen, -women and civilians. In researching new methods to minimize the consequences of their immobility, it provided aa new and great possibility for reviving the idea of sport as a means of treatment and rehabilitation.

In 1944 Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, at the request of the British Government, opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. A new approach introduced sport as a paramount part of the remedial treatment and total rehabilitation of persons with a disability. Rehabilitation sport evolved rather quickly to recreational sport and the next step to competitive sport was only a matter of some years.

On 28 July 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Dr. Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1952, Dutch ex-servicemen joined the mmovement and the International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee (ISMGF) was founded. In 1960 the first Paralympic Games were held directly following the Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. The event used the same venues and format as the Olympic event and included 400 athletes from 23 nations. This event was to continue in this manner every four years following the Olympic cycle. A number of different disability groups were merged in competition in 1976 and in the same year the first PParalympic Winter Games took place.

Also in 1960, under the aegis of the World Federation for Ex-servicemen, an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled was set up to study the problems of sport for persons with a disability. It resulted in the creation, in 1964, of an international sport federation called ISOD: International Sport Organization for the Disabled. ISOD offered opportunities for those athletes who could not affiliate to ISMGF: visual impaired, amputees, persons with cerebral palsy and paraplegics. At the start, 16 countries were affiliated to ISOD and the organization pushed very hard to include blind and amputee athletes into the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto and persons with cerebral palsy in 1980 in Arnhem. Its aim was to embrace all disabilities in the future and to act as a Co-ordinating Committee. Nevertheless, other disability-orientated international organizations such as CP-ISRA and IBSA were founded in 1978 and 1980.

The four international organizations experienced the need of coordinating the Games. So they created the „International Coordinating Committee Sports for the Disabled in the World“ (ICC) in 1982. The ICC was originally composed of the four presidents of CP-ISRA, IBSA, ISMGF and ISOD, the general secretaries and one additional member (in the bbeginning it was the Vice-President, and later on the Technical Officer). CISS and INAS-FMH joined in 1986, but the deaf still maintained their own organization. However, the member nations demanded more national and regional representation in the organization. This finally led to the foundation of a new, democratically organized institution, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).


The Permanent Secretary of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Dr Aideen McGinley, today emphasised the importance of making Northern Ireland’s cultural assets available to all members of society.

She was speaking at a major conference, organised by the Blind Centre for Northern Ireland, at The Share Centre in Lisnaskea, which was examining ways of developing opportunities for making sport and leisure activities across the Province more accessible to people with disabilities.

Dr McGinley said: „Northern Ireland’s Cultural Capital, in terms of its people, its product and services and its infrastructure, has a very important contribution to make to the quality of life in the Province. Everyone in our community must have the opportunity to experience and appreciate the excellence of our cultural assets.

„However, to enable as many people as possible, including those with disabilities, to enjoy them to tthe full, it is essential that they are made more accessible. My Department is fully committed to working with people and organisations, such as the Blind Centre, to do just that.

„The challenges for disability are not only physical. Disabled people are also forced to battle with the barriers that exist in the minds of others. That is why it is important to raise awareness of the particular needs of those with disabilities and to provide more opportunities to encourage and enable them to participate in sport and other leisure activities,“ she said.

Dr McGinley pointed to the Special Olympics in 2003 as a success story for raising the public’s awareness of disabled sport. „We as a society have reaped the benefits in terms of increased community awareness and understanding of inclusion. Therefore it is vital that we build upon this legacy which we hope to do in 2006 when the National Games will be hosted in Belfast.“

She also gave the delegates some examples of work already undertaken by the Department which were aimed at the blind or visually impaired. This included the provision of adaptive technology in libraries, the organisation of suitable events at Northern Ireland’s major museums and, in

the arts sector, the introduction of audio description in many theatres.

Dr McGinley was welcomed to the conference by Deane Houston, the Chief Executive of the Blind Centre for Northern Ireland which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.