Did you know that contrary to popular belief, sign language is not universal? Although the exact number of sign languages around the world is still unknown, 19 deaf track and field athletes communicated through a universal language that they all could understand last week: sports.
I was lucky enough to meet these energetic, young athletes and their six coaches from the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands who were here in the United States participating in a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Visitors program.
Despite the group members communicating in four different sign languages, when I saw these athletes literally hit the track running during their clinics, communication barriers were never an issue. These Pacific Island athletes were instantly engaging with their American counterparts at Gallaudet University, George Mason University, Maryland School for the Deaf, Roosevelt High School, New York School for the Deaf, and Lexington School for the Deaf. They performed their leadership-building, conflict resolution, and teamwork activities with the same enthusiasm and passion you would find at any gathering of track and field competitors.
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.
Providing inclusive sports experiences for persons with disabilities helps build self-esteem and confidence, and fosters an improved quality of life for these individuals and those around them. In life as in sport, there should be no limit to what persons with disabilities can do.
About the Author: Kelli Davis serves as a Program Manager in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.