Addressing the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities has emerged as a significant human rights and foreign policy issue in the 21st century. There are 1 billion people with disabilities around the world, and 80 percent of them live in developing countries. Sports are an avenue through which persons with disabilities can be treated equally -- building self-esteem and confidence that enhances participation in everyday life.
Eight wheelchair basketball athletes and four coaches from Turkey were able to engage firsthand in the disability sports culture in the United States, inspiring greater understanding of inclusion rights in sports.
This wheelchair basketball exchange taught the Turkish athletes and coaches about equality for persons with disabilities in the United States, as well as the importance of teamwork and leadership skills. The program took the athletes and coaches to Washington and Illinois to play wheelchair basketball with their American counterparts, to work with experts in the field of disability sports, and to recognize the ties between academics and athletics.
They also celebrated America's birthday at the State Department's Independence Day celebration in the Benjamin Franklin Room. Ambassador Capricia Marshall -- Chief of Protocol -- introduced the Turkish athletes and coaches during her opening remarks at the event, which was followed by a warm welcome by all in attendance. The group was very moved by this gesture, which even brought a few of them to tears. With the breathtaking view of the Washington, D.C. fireworks display and the hospitality shown during the celebration, it is no surprise that the athletes and coaches found this to be one of the most meaningful portions of their trip.
This Sports Visitor program supports the U.S. Department of State's exchange programs that advocate for governments around the world to adopt policies and practices that respect diversity regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability; and recognize that persons with disabilities have the same rights as non-disabled persons, and must be provided access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation on an equal basis with others.
Sports can serve as a powerful tool to positively influence the physical and psychological health of people with disabilities. It is through inclusive sport opportunities, such as those demonstrated in this exchange, that persons with disabilities acquire vital leadership skills, develop independence, and become empowered to act as agents of change.