With the support of an award from UCC’s Global Design Challenge for Sport and Physical Activity, the UNESCO Chair at MTU recently led its Inclusive Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport (iPEPAS) blended learning program in South Africa. iPEPAS is designed to build capacity of physical activity-related university and community programmes to embed disability inclusion in their offerings, bridging the gap between policy and practice, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which most countries around the world have signed and ratified.

The role physical activity plays in generating health, well-being, and social inclusion is widely acknowledged yet there are many factors that contribute to the 1.5 billion people with disabilities around the world participating in physical education, sport, active recreation, and fitness far less than people without disabilities. A primary factor globally is insufficient training of practitioners and coaches in relation to disability-inclusive practice, and the iPEPAS programme was designed specifically to address this issue.

In recent years South Africa has taken a lead on inclusive policies in this space so it was identified as an ideal location to run the program. With this in mind, the UNESCO Chair’s iPEPAS program coordinator, Aisling Clardy, forged partnerships in the region with key stakeholders eager to build capacity on the ground. The partnership recruited candidates from numerous universities and disability service providers across South Africa and Malawi, all committed to applying what they learn to generate local impact and to create a community of inclusive practice.

The onsite component of the programme in Stellenbosch, South Africa as led by Aisling and Dr. Alan Ringland, a sports psychology and physical education lecturer at MTU and team psychologist at Paralympics Ireland. Over the course of a week, candidates applied their prior online learning and developed further competencies which prepared them to lead three successful sports days for children and adults from a local disability service provider. The week also included presentations from local guest speakers, including athletes with disabilities and disability inclusion advocates. In the final phase of the programme, candidates are currently working in partnerships to design initiatives for impact relevant to their area of expertise.

The iPEPAS programme is also currently running in Mauritius, another country leading the charge in inclusive physical activity policy to drive human rights and sustainable development, in partnership with the Mauritius Institute of Education.

The iPEPAS e-learning module is freely available for physical educators, physical activity and sport-related professionals, students and volunteers, and also for training and education providers to adopt and embed into their programmes, at https://ipepas.com/

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A group of people participants of the activities together