Let us tell you the story of an amazing athlete. 31 Year Old American Archer Matt Stutzman is an absolute master of his sport and has a talent for archery that would make Robin Hood nervous. Currently the world record holder for the longest accurate shot, he has been reported to be able to shoot a hole in a penny from up to 50 yards away.
This incredible athlete who is an exceptional achiever his sport has a disability. Matt Stutzman the world-record-setting accurate archer was born without arms. He holds his bow and arrow with his feet. He uses a special harness to pull back the arrow with his shoulder and hit the target. Matt has physical limitations which could have held him back, but he has triumphed over obstacles in order to achieve incredible things.
He didn’t focus on his disability; rather he concentrated on maximising his ability to his full potential. Instead of seeing obstacles, he saw an opportunity.
What can we learn from this?
We need to undergo a shift in our thinking. When we see people with disabilities we tend to focus on what is holding them back, rather than seeing them as people. We need to focus more on what they can do, including their ability to participate in sport. This is why I am writing this post today about the importance of creating current and future sporting facilities accessible for people with disabilities. First of all, let’s look at what the term “disability” means. Disability is an umbrella term which refers to all different types of impairments and activity limitations. A disabled person might be missing a limb, have restricted movement or have lost the use of their hearing or sight. They might have a condition such as HIV, multiple sclerosis or cancer or they might have a mental impairment which affects their ability to perform normal day to day tasks. Sometimes disability is obvious and sometimes it can be more difficult to see.
How many people in the world have a disability?
According to a recent estimate by the World Health Organization, there were approximately one billion people in the world who are moderately-to-severely disabled. This represents 15% of the global population. One billion people. Think about that. There are one billion people in the world with disabilities. If any of those one billion people wanted to access your building or your facilities right now, would they be able to? Or would they find it a struggle? (learn more about our access audits here)
Although there has been a shift towards inclusion, in many ways disabled people are still treated as second-class citizens. In their day to day lives, people with disabilities face stigma against them, discrimination and inaccessible transport and buildings. Not only are you excluding a large portion of the population by not providing accessible access, you are also losing out on a great deal of potential revenue. Let’s look at the UK as an example. There are 10 million disabled people in the UK alone and they have a combined disposable income of 80 billion pounds. It makes a lot of business sense to include disability access within existing sporting facilities as well as future sporting facilities.
We have the technology and the expertise to develop the means for people with disabilities to participate in mainstream social activities such as sport. It is our responsibility to do this so that we can break down the barriers causing people with disabilities to be segregated from society. There is not much that we can do about an individual’s personal impairment such as a missing leg, a paralyzed spine or a degenerative disease. However, there is something that we can do about their ability or disability to participate in social situations. A physical impairment, such as a spinal cord injury, only becomes a “disability” when there is an external circumstance which allows this physical impairment to hold the person back, such as a building without wheelchair access.
When we look at it this way, the disability has been created by our environment at is our collective responsibility to make the necessary modifications to that environment. What countless inspiring people with disabilities have shown us over the years is that although a physical impairment can hold someone back, it doesn’t have to.
If Matt Stutzman can hit the target while shooting an arrow with his feet, then nothing should be holding us back from hitting the target of making sport accessible to all.