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Inclusion in physical education

The education of all students regardless of their ability within the PE class represents a relatively new process within the Irish education system. Until the last decade, most students with disabilities were educated in segregated special schools. Today, although many students with disabilities are still educated within special schools, there is a movement toward educating these students into mainstream education. This movement has resulted as a consequence of national and international educational policies. In Ireland, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) are the main advisory body to the government on matters relating to curriculum for early childhood education, primary, and secondary schools. They also oversee the assessment procedures employed in schools and examinations on subjects which are part of the schools' curriculum. Relevant to secondary level education, the NCCA have produced curriculum guidelines at junior cycle (JC) (first year to third year) and senior cycle (SC) (fifth year and sixth year) levels. To date, for the SC, a PE curriculum exists that acknowledges the participation of students with disabilities, ‘Participation for students is an essential prerequisite to learning in physical education. Schools should facilitate, as far as possible, the inclusion of students with disabilities in all physical education activities' (NCCA, 2003, p.4). Furthermore, a Leaving Certificate PE curriculum as an examinable subject has recently been drafted that also stipulates the importance of PE participation for students with disabilities, ‘There is an onus upon schools to facilitate, as far as possible, the inclusion of students with disabilities in all physical education activities' (NCCA, 2004, p.2). For the JC curriculum, PE guidelines exist that among other things aim to, (a) enhance the student's sense of self through the development of skilful and creative performance of practical activities and (b) develop the personal enrichment of the student by developing personal and social skills, and encouraging positive attitudes and values in his/her interaction with others. Although the NCCA acknowledge the participation of students with disabilities in PE in both the JC and SC curriculum, as of yet, no published guidelines exist for teaching students with disabilities in PE. However, it is important to note that guidelines are presently (i.e. in the year 2005) being written for students with general learning disabilities and physical disabilities at JC level.

Specific to primary level school PE, the NCCA have drafted a primary PE curriculum syllabus. Again, PE for children with disabilities is acknowledged in the curriculum ‘The child with special needs (i.e. disabilities) should experience the enjoyment of participation and progression through the various stages of the PE programme according to his/her ability'. Apart from the NCCA PE curriculum guidelines, no other national PE policies or guidelines exist. Also, no educational legislation exists that mandates inclusive education (or PE), however, the recently proposed Disabilities Bill (2003) states that children with disabilities should be educated in an inclusive environment unless circumstances (such as lack of resources) warrant it impossible

Inclusion in sports and physical activity

In Ireland there exists one national sporting organisation called the Irish Sports Council (ISC). The ISC is the statutory sports agency responsible for the promotion, development and coordination of sports in Ireland. The ISC mandate comes from the Irish Sports Council Act, 1999. A part of the ISC's development programme involves work at local level around the country through the Local Sports Partnerships (LSP). The LSP assist in development of local sport including the participation of people with disabilities. For example, Limerick LSP have facilitated in setting up two adapted physical activity programmes for children and adults with disabilities in Limerick city. These programmes are called Swim-Inc (swimming inclusive) for children with disabilities and Gym-Inc (gym inclusive) for adults with disabilities. The ISC and the LSP both promote the participation of people with disabilities in sports and physical activity however, there is no national mandate within the ISC that stipulates participation for this population, such as allocation of funding to improve sporting opportunities for people with disabilities through the National Governing Bodies of sport (NGB). The ISC acts as a resource for the NGB's. One of the priorities of the ISC is to strengthen and develop the NGB'S of Ireland. NGB's organise and administrate most of the organised sport in Ireland; they train and deploy coaches; they organise representative level sport; and they provide sporting opportunities and pathways leading from local sport to national and international competition. There is no legal mandate on the NGB'S to provide sporting opportunities for people with disabilities although it is recommended by the ISC.

The Paralympic Council of Ireland (PCI) is the Irish national representative organisation for athletes with physical disabilities in Ireland and Special Olympics Ireland is the national sporting organisation for people with learning disabilities. No legislation exists within Irish sport that mandates allocation of resources for the NGB's from the ISC to promote sporting opportunities for people with disabilities.

Employment for youngsters with a disability

Employment Equality Act 1998

The Act prohibits discrimination by employers against employees, or potential employees, in relation to access to employment, conditions of employment, training and promotion or regarding, classification of posts and dismissal. This Act introduced, for the first time in Irish equality law, non-gender grounds of discrimination. There are nine separate grounds under this Act in relation to which discrimination is prohibited: gender, martial status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race, or membership of the travelling community.

The Employment Equality Act outlaws discriminatory practices in relation to and within employment. The Act prohibits direct and indirect discrimination and victimisation in employment. All aspects of employment are covered with the Act:

Disability Act 2001

According to the Disability Act 2001, Part 7 - Public Service Employment, employment of people with disabilities applies to the Department of State or the public bodies operating under the aegis of the Minister of the Government or a sector of the public service operating under such an aegis;

  • Each public body shall endeavour to ensure that, as far as practicable, at least 3 per cent of the persons employed in it are persons with disabilities
  • Each sector of the public service shall ensure that unless there is good reason to the contrary at least 3 per cent of the persons employed in it are such persons.
    Within the employment section "persons with disabilities" means persons with disabilities whose employer has taken all reasonable steps to meet their needs in relation to their disability and who have been employed by the public body concerned for not less than 3 months ending on the date in respect of which the percentage referred to in subsection one

The approach by the various ministerial and government departments regulating employment is compartmentalised and fails to provide for a consistent nationwide system in dealing with employment issues relating to individuals with disabilities. This form of ‘delegating practices' to individual departments is similar to that in Australia where there has proven to be many discrepancies and inconsistencies between the states in interpretation and application of practices. Ireland is a small country with 360,000 people with a disability (many of these would not full fill the Disability Bills' criteria for having a disability), surely it cannot be that difficult to develop legislation which has equal bearance and non-ambiguity for all government departments and service providers.

Also, there is no definitive description of "people with disabilities" within the employment section and the above explanation is both confusing and misleading. Furthermore, any "reasonable steps" the employer takes should meet the employees needs in relation to work and not their disability as is stated in the employment section - this is emphasising the individuals abilities at work and not ameliorating their disability. As expected, the typical language loopholes are present such as "as far as practicable" and "unless there is good reason to the contrary" to provide the employer with an escape clause to avoid complying with the regulations of having to ensure3% of its workforce are individuals with disabilities.

Sara Meegan



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