Including persons with disabilities through table tennis

Inclusive table tennis programmes means for us that it is not just about including persons with disabilities in the sport, but using the sport to break down both physical and mental barriers. We want to ensure persons with and without disabilities alike are part of the solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems and achieving the SDGs. Through our programmes, we hope to put abilities forward, offer a fun safe space to challenge bias and open minds to inclusive design.

We have a long history of leadership at the ITTF that is committed to inclusion, including the governance of para table tennis within the federation since July 2007. Since then, ITTF is the recognised governing body for para table tennis and is responsible for all rules and regulations pertaining to para table tennis, including classifications. Beyond performance however, the sport has shown very successful development initiatives, such as the Smash Down Barriers programme in Oceania.

NGO for people with disabilities through the completed ITTF Dream Building project Ping Pong Ba Dame in East Timor.

Furthermore, through the ITTF Foundation, we work with people whose quality of life would improve by their participation in table tennis. All our projects, those we implement and those we support through the Dream Building Fund, commit to be inclusive, and each project targets a specific SDG.  

Between 2015-2019, we supported one of the biggest projects aimed at the inclusion of persons with disabilities, TT4NepALL. The project successfully expanded para table tennis across Nepal and raised awareness and built social inclusion locally. The project held the weekly training of over 200 persons with disabilities and is now organising tournaments through local government grants.

In 2019, we received support from the AGITOS Foundation to develop our refugee programme, specifically targeting persons with disabilities in the Azraq and Zaatari camps in Jordan. One of our biggest challenges in the camps remains access to the centres – busses have to be organised, which means players are dependent on transport to attend sessions.

Smash Down Barriers programme in Oceania

We also support a project in Hoima, Uganda, which offers education and table tennis as an incentive to children with and without disabilities. The project in Alkmaar, Netherlands, is looking to include persons with disabilities in their club decision making level. Further, in 2021, we will support the Smash Down Barriers programme in Tonga.

Accessibility is not optional – it is about inclusion, diversity, and human rights, but also design. In terms of providing access, we know we could do more, and we are taking steps forward in the right direction.

We are learning but we know we could improve in making our programmes more inclusive form the start, starting with the design phase. Once we overcome the issues of transport, accessibility and cultural perceptions, we have seen how participants benefit from sport, and the difference sport makes in a participant’s life. Further, the community also changes its perceptions, as it sees them grow their skills.  

We hope that we will be able to keep raising awareness, shining the light on examples of good practice, and support project leaders who want to make a difference in this field. We hope to receive more projects offering to improve quality of life of persons with disabilities and bring solutions to accessibility for the next Dream Building Fund call.

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