Sports, leisure and recreation

22.1 Sport plays a major role in the lives of many people, including people with disabilities, whether as participants, organisers or as spectators. Sport can and should also play a major role in integrating people with disabilities into society.

22.2 Sportsmen and sportswomen with physical, sensory and learning disabilities have done Ireland proud at home and abroad for many years. Many hold European and world records from the Paralympics and the Special Olympics. Their dedication and training is equal to that of other sports people competing at those levels. But there is little or no acknowledgement of their achievements in the media and it is only in recent years that some of these athletes have become members of mainstream clubs.

22.3 There is little appreciation either of the funding required to properly prepare and to assist athletes to compete internationally. There is little or no statutory funding for the sporting bodies which represent them. Many athletes with disabilities have to raise their own funds to be able to compete. Few, if any, of them qualify for elite athletic grants given to some of their able bodied peers. This must change so that people with disabilities, wherever they live, can participate in the sport of their choice at the highest level at which they can compete.

22.4 Lottery funding should be made available to the governing bodies of these sports so that Irish athletes will be able to compete internationally on an equal footing with those of many other countries.

22.5 Ireland has applied to host the Special Olympics early in the next century and we hope that the Government will actively support and promote this application. Proper and adequate funding should be made available to ensure that Ireland could host such an event.

22.6 Every effort must be made to facilitate people with disabilities who are interested in sports as spectators. Major venues should not be inaccessible to people with physical or sensory disabilities nor should it be acceptable to have only a corner of stadiums set aside for wheelchair users and no facilities at all for people with other disabilities.

22.7 Planning permissions should not be granted to any sporting body for renovations or new buildings unless they include proper facilities for people with disabilities. Elsewhere in Europe, these include commentaries in sections of stands to assist those with visual impairments. Discussions should take place with the Council for the Status of People with a Disability to ensure that proper, adequate and safe facilities are made available to all people with disabilities.

22.8 Leisure and recreation, in the broadest sense, can cover most activities except those related to work, activities which are taken for granted by most people but which cannot be taken for granted by people with disabilities. Very few, for instance, can decide to take a weekend away from home without planning everything in minute detail. Going to the local pub is something which most Irish people do on a regular basis but very few public houses have toilet facilities for wheelchair users. In rural areas, many activities take place in community centres, few of which have facilities for people with disabilities. Not many organisations or associations, such as youth clubs, scouts or guides, sports clubs, women's groups, activity-based clubs and community groups, have a proactive policy of enlisting people with disabilities as members. Even a day out with their families on the beach or in local playgrounds can be impossible for people with disabilities because of inaccessibility. The recommendations in earlier chapters, especially in Chapter 9: Access, cover many of these situations. However, the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities should commission a survey of all beaches in the country and try to ensure that only those that are accessible should qualify for Blue Flags.

22.9 Bord Failte and the regional tourism authorities should ensure that all tourist information includes details of the facilities for people with disabilities. There is a large potential market of tourists with disabilities. As Ireland markets itself ever more vigorously as a tourist destination, it is to the country's advantage to be able to cater for visitors with disabilities. Tourist information centres should only receive state funding if they are accessible to all which, unfortunately, many are not. All information in them must be available in alternative media and all staff should receive disability awareness training.

22.10 Government must also ensure that all libraries under the control of local authorities are accessible and carry a range of books in large print or talking books. Within five years of the publication of this report each library should have an optical scanner.

22.11 Many voluntary groups, like Arch clubs, have done great work in promoting activities for disabled people as well as raising awareness about the contribution that people with disabilities can make to society. The clubs should be fully supported and have a mix of voluntary and paid staff as they cannot operate during holiday seasons, a time when many people with disabilities most need the social outlets they provide.

22.12 Workshops and other centres catering for people with disabilities, who need more structured leisure time, should be encouraged to open their facilities and centres in the evenings and at weekends, and to develop a policy on sport, leisure and recreation.