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04.12.2012 - Ausgabe: 6/2012

Bullseye in White* ...

... Disabled sports and barrier-free sports facilities

As in other social fields, a paradigm change is also taking place in sport. In 2008 the conference of culture ministers and the German Olympic Sport Association agreed on a “mutual action recommendation – Sport for disabled children and youngsters”. Sport education for both disabled and children without a handicap together improves understanding and reduces fear of contact on both sides - a development which is continuing in both amateur and professional sport. More than 50,000 visitors attended the International Paralympic Day in Berlin on July 12, 2009 and tried for themselves what it is like to live with a physical disability.
An increasing number of sports are becoming available for disabled athletes. Marathon, archery or wheelchair basketball are now well known. It is however, rather unusual that blind people can take part in shooting contents using conventional weapons. This is made possible by a particular sighting unit which looks somewhat like the telescopic sight of a hunting rifle. Instead of ocular optic, however, contains a photo cell which coverts light entering into a buzzing tone. The brighter the light entering the unit, the higher the pitch of the buzzing tone which is received by the sight-impaired marksman via a headset. Based on the change of tone according to the brightness of the light, the marksman can immediately hear if he is aiming at the centre of the target (picture 1).
There is practically no sport in which today, disabled people cannot participate. Whether outdoors or in the gym, in and on water, on land or in the air, summer or winter. Have you ever heard of sledge ice hockey? Paraplegics or leg-amputees sit on special sledges and play ice hockey (picture 2). Or that athletes with the same disabilities can even water ski (picture 3)?

Accessible for the disabled – Barrier free

But what do these sports have to do with absolute accessibility? Every kind of sport demands and promotes one or more capabilities: motoric, sensory or cognitive capabilities. For the marksmanship mentioned above these are: good or well corrected sight, good concentration, breathing techniques and body control. If the health limits of a disabled person have nothing to do with these capabilities, there is absolutely no reason why he or she cannot participate in this sport just like healthy athletes. Another good example is wheelchair archery. It is also possible for disabled athletes to take part in sports together with non-disabled people. At the Olympic Games in 1904 held at St. Louis, USA, the US American George Eyser – with a wooden leg - won the gold medal. The paraplegic Neroli Fairhall from New Zealand took part in archery at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and in 2000, the sight-impaired middle-distance runner Marla Runyan from the USA ran the 1500 metre race in Sydney, Australia.

If, however, the health impairment of the athlete involves a required capability, a suitable aid must be found so that another capability can take up this task. For example, blind marksmen replace their sight with hearing. Basically this means that shooting with visual sights and shooting by sound are two different kinds of sport. Training and participation by both disabled and non-disabled marksmen is only sometimes possible. The discussion is well known regarding the high-performance artificial limbs used by Oscar Pistorius, Olympia winner at the summer Paralympics 2008 in 100, 200 and 400 metre sprints when the qualification for participation at the games in Peking was only made possible by a legal court decision. This kind of discussion and similar decisions in professional sport however, has nothing to do with barrier-free sport and must be carried out on other occasions than this.

The third possibility is sport participated in by athletes with and without a disability together. Wheelchair dancing is an elegant example to watch (picture 4). Wheelchair basketball (picture 5), is another sport where both disabled and non-disabled players can compete together as the non-disabled players also sit in a wheelchair to play.

All three possibilities described here have in common the fact that special aids, which overcome the limitations of each individual athlete, make it possible for them to participate in the sport. Here we can correctly speak of accessibility for the disabled and of accessible sport.

Barrier freedom, on the other hand, is a “social dimension” as it was described by Professor Dr. Dieter Philippen, pioneer on the topic of barrier-freedom stated as early as 1970. Here, the organisation of accessible sports is given the prerequisite that disabled athletes can compete and participate in a sport together with people without a disability.
German legislation for equal opportunities for disable people (Bundesbehindertengleichstellungsgesetz, BGG) states that: barrier free facilities are those buildings, facilities and other areas of life which are accessible to and suitable for use by disabled people in a general, conventional way without particular difficulties and primarily without external help. Article 30 of the UN convention governing the rights of people with disabilities, which was incorporated into German Federal Law at the beginning of this year, demands that “…equal participation in relaxation, leisure and sport activities is made possible”.

Barrier-free sports facilities

These requirements apply to all sporting activities ranging from school sports, leisure or amateur sports and sport as therapy to professional sport and competitions. They also apply to active athletes, trainers and employees as well as spectators and are valid for people with and without disabilities. These requirements are fulfilled by sports facilities which are planned and construction to be barrier-free.

Three basic design criteria are decisive for completely accessible sports facilities:
1. Design taking the needs of the group with the most far-reaching requirements into consideration
2. the two-channel system (alternative accessibility) and
3. the two-sense principle.
Today, these three criteria form the fundamental basis of national and international standardisation for barrier-free design.

Design for the group with the most far-reaching requirements

This design principle means determination of the group with the most far-reaching requirements for use of buildings or facilities. If the planning is carried out to satisfy these requirements, e.g. for rooms, corridors or entrances, then this group can use the buildings without problem and it is also much easier, safer and more comfortable, also for all other people with less demanding requirements, whether disabled or not. It is not always disabled people who have the most far-reaching requirements. In some riding stables, for example, it is often a bad habit of riders to climb into the saddle inside the stables and then leave through a too low entrance (picture 6). If the horse shies and rears up, extremely serious accidents can occur. In this example, as well, this design principle (higher entrance) would involve an increase in safety.

The “two-channel” system (assistive technology)

If complete accessibility cannot be achieved, even after taking into consideration the most far-reaching requirements of users, the “two channel principle” works at every step in the use of a product. This principle states, that products designed according to today’s ergonomic knowledge must be able to be made use of at all stages of their usability from awareness, recognition, reaching and operation, in at least a second, alternative way.
People, who for whatever reason are not capable of climbing stairs, require a second, alternative channel. With only a few steps, this could be a ramp (picture 7), for a flight of stairs, a lift (picture 8).
Doors are often fitted with strong springs as automatic closing devices which can also present a problem for people without disability. If the door can be opened manually using an electric motor as an alternative second channel, even people with very little physical strength can open the doors by themselves (picture 9).

The “second sense” principle (adaptive technology)

The second sense principle is a concept of alternative awareness. All information from the immediate environment is received by a person’s senses. If one sense fails, receipt of the corresponding information via a second sense is required. According to the second sense principle, information must be able to be received by at least two of the three senses, hearing, seeing, and feeling. A good and successful example of replacement of seeing by hearing is provided by the German football club Schalke 04. Already in their previous stadium, replaced in 2001 by new facilities, blind fans and those with impaired sight were able to make use of a special offer of a headset with which they could follow the blow-by-blow live commentary of the game while still enjoying the stadium atmosphere. Another example where hearing is replaced by sight is motorsport. No driver could hear the starting gun over all the engine noise. Here, a visual sign is given by the starting lights which give the signal at the moment of the start and replace the starting pistol (picture 10).

Implementation of barrier-free design principles

The three design principles mentioned above for the basis of current national and international standardisation. With the standard DIN E 18040 “Barrier-free construction – Planning basics – Part 1: Publically accessible buildings” and the DIN technology report 124 “Products in Design for All” standardisation is carried further so that not only the needs of people with physical disabilities but also those with sense impediments can be covered comprehensively during the construction of sports facilities.
For ten years now, all regional German building regulations promote absolute accessibility (Design for All) in public buildings. The first building regulations to demand this in 2002, noted in § 50 “Barrier-free construction”: (2) Those parts of public buildings to which people are intended to have free access, must be able to be reached and made use of for the designated purpose by people with disabilities, the aged and people with small children, without them requiring external help. These requirements apply, among other things to sport and leisure facilities. This clause was integrated into all regional building regulations including the German standard DIN 18024 “Barrier-free construction – Part 2: Public buildings and work places, planning basics” as technical building stipulations.

On the part of institutions, it should today be self-evident that these regulations and stipulations are followed for construction of new buildings or major renovation work.
Only through a barrier-free design of sports facilities in the field of schools and further education can the inclusive (integrative) education of children and youngsters with disabilities be achieved. Through exercise, games and sport based on modern physical education and sport-pedagogic findings, can integrated teaching be implemented in daily school life.
Trainers, coaches and other employees with disabilities can find suitable jobs and fields of activity in barrier-free sports facilities.
Barrier-free sports facilities are prerequisites for leisure and amateur sport to ensure the basic rights of participation and self-determination. Athletes with and without disabilities can participate in sport together, keep fit and enjoy their leisure time.
Barrier-free sports facilities provide all athletes, whether with or without a disability with the necessary conditions in training and competitions, to allow them to concentrate on their sporting tasks in a suitable environment and without hindrances.

Foto: cirquedesprit // Quelle: Fotolia.com

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