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Khasnabis C, Heinicke Motsch K, Achu K, et al., editors. Community-Based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010.

Cover of Community-Based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines

Community-Based Rehabilitation: CBR Guidelines.

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Recreation, leisure and sports


Like culture and art, recreation, leisure and sports activities play an important role in communities. Their many benefits include improving the health and well-being of individuals, contributing to the empowerment of individuals, and promoting the development of inclusive communities. Recreation, leisure and sports activities may involve individuals, small groups, teams or whole communities and are relevant to people of all different ages, abilities and levels of skill. The types of recreation, leisure and sports activities people participate in vary greatly depending on local context, and tend to reflect the social systems and cultural values.

Participation in recreation, leisure and sports activities may be one of the few opportunities people with disabilities have to engage in community life beyond their immediate families. The right to participate in these activities is highlighted in the box below. As with culture and art, people with disabilities may choose to participate actively (e.g. as team members of a basketball team), or passively (e.g. as spectators at a football match).

BOX 18

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 30, paragraph 5: Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport (2)

With a view to enabling persons with disabilities to participate on an ongoing basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to a) encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels; b) have an opportunity to organize, develop and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities; c) have access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues; d) ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities; e) have access to services from those involved in the organization of recreational, tourism, leisure and sporting activities.

BOX 19Morocco

Using sport for social inclusion and personal development (9)

The project Sport as a Tool for Social Inclusion and Personal Development was launched by Handicap International in Morocco in 2007. A survey previously conducted (in 2004) by Handicap International had estimated that more than 1.5 million Moroccans had disabilities, and the purpose of the programme was to increase the opportunities for people with disabilities to be involved in sports and address inequalities in access to rehabilitation, health care and social integration.

The programme focused on three areas:

  1. Capacity-building and networking of Moroccan institutions – programme staff worked closely with the Royal Moroccan Sports Federation (specialists in mainstream sports but with limited expertise in disability) and around 600 Moroccan disability associations specializing in health and education for people with disabilities, assisting them to develop strategic, national and international partnerships. Support was also offered to small projects and sports clubs for people with disabilities by offering training in management skills, project development, proposal writing and fundraising.
  2. Provision of adapted sports equipment – including wheelchairs, appropriate clothing, and adapted equipment, e.g. balls which make noise for the blind.
  3. Organization of inclusive sports events – a number of sporting events were held. These included an event to mark the International Day for Disabled Persons, and the Race for All, which attracted approximately 2000 runners both with and without disabilities. A high profile football tournament for players with disabilities was also held; it was sponsored by the King of Morocco and the final game was broadcast on national television to an audience of approximately 20 000 people.

The programme achieved a number of impacts:

  • 1500 people with disabilities were reached through sporting clubs and regular sporting events;
  • people with disabilities gained access to quality services, including appropriate technology and equipment and trained personnel who can advise them;
  • people with disabilities gained access to opportunities to meet and interact with others of all abilities.


People with disabilities participate both actively and as spectators in recreational, leisure and sporting activities on an equal basis with others.

The role of CBR

The role of CBR programmes is to promote increased participation of people with disabilities in recreation, leisure and sports activities; and provide support to mainstream organizations and programmes to enable them to strengthen their capacity by offering appropriate and accessible recreation, leisure and sports activities.

Desirable outcomes

  • People with disabilities participate in recreation, leisure and sports programmes available in the local community.
  • Local, national and international authorities and associations include people with disabilities in their recreational, leisure and sports programmes.
  • Families, teachers and community members recognize and actively promote the right and ability of people with disabilities to take part in recreation, leisure and sports activities.
  • People both with and without disabilities are involved together in recreation, leisure and sports activities.
  • People with disabilities are able to access recreation, leisure and sports venues.
  • Equipment used for recreation, leisure and sports is adapted where needed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Recreational, leisure and sports programmes and activities are developed specifically for people with disabilities where required.

Key concepts


In this element:

Recreation refers to all those activities that people choose to do to refresh their bodies and minds and make their leisure time more interesting and enjoyable. Examples of recreation activities are walking, swimming, meditation, reading, playing games and dancing.

Leisure refers to the free time that people can spend away from their everyday responsibilities (e.g. work and domestic tasks) to rest, relax and enjoy life. It is during leisure time that people participate in recreation and sporting activities.

Sport refers to any type of organized physical activity, e.g. soccer, rugby, football, basketball and athletics.

Recreation, leisure and sports in the community

In many low-income countries where people work every day just to survive, the concept of leisure time is not always well understood and nor is it a priority. Indeed, many activities that are considered recreational in high-income countries are considered a means of livelihood in low-income countries, e.g. fishing and handicrafts.

In most communities the type of recreational and sporting activities people participate in are determined by age, gender, local context (e.g. rural vs. urban) and socioeconomic status. For example, children in poor communities are likely to play games using natural materials, such as sticks or stones or using discarded manufactured items like tyres and rope. Leisure time is also likely to be based around cultural activities, such as traditional dance, storytelling, religious festivals and events, and visiting entertainment troupes.

In many poor and rural communities there are no designated places for people to spend their leisure time, such as community centres and sports stadiums, so it is common for people to gather in places of worship, tea shops, houses and open spaces.

Communities in low-income countries often have pressing priorities and limited budgets. As a result the development of formal recreation and sports activities/programmes is usually dependent on donors. It is important that external funding is carefully managed to ensure that the programmes/activities introduced are appropriate to the local context.

The benefits of participation

Participation in recreation and sports activities can have many benefits for both the individual and community.These include:

  • health promotion and disease prevention – recreation and sports activities are an enjoyable and effective way to improve health and well-being; they can relieve stress, increase fitness, improve physical and mental health, and prevent the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease;
  • skills development – physical and social skills are some of the many skills that can be developed through participation in recreation and sports activities;
  • awareness raising, reduction of stigma and social inclusion – recreation and sports activities are a powerful, low-cost means to foster greater inclusion of people with disabilities; they bring people of all ages and abilities together for enjoyment, and provide people with disabilities the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and abilities, and promote a positive image of disability;
  • international peace and development – sport is a universal language that can be used as a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding by bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions (10).
  • empowerment – recreation and sports activities can empower people with disabilities by positively influencing their self-confidence and self-esteem.

BOX 20Eritrea

War veterans become role models

In Eritrea, war veterans with disabilities received training to work as football team managers and trainers so they could play a key role in implementing children's football activities, involving more than 2000 children, in the capital city of Asmara. This involvement has changed the way the war veterans view themselves, and has positively influenced the way in which children view people with disabilities, while providing positive role models for other people with disabilities. Building on this success, the sports club is now providing football training to deaf children as a first step in the inclusion of children with disabilities in its sports activities.

Recreation and sport are complementary with other opportunities

While the many benefits of recreation and sporting activities have been highlighted, it is important to remember that they should not be used as a substitute for limited access to other opportunities, such as education or livelihood.

BOX 21Afghanistan

Bicycle training

The Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR) programme in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a bicycle training programme for people with amputations, to improve their functional mobility and independence and enable them to travel to and from work and save on transportation costs.

Enabling access to recreation, leisure and sport

Reasonable accommodation may be necessary for some people with disabilities to participate in recreation and sporting activities. With a little creativity and flexibility, activities and equipment can be adapted at minimal or no cost to ensure the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities.

BOX 22

Adapting sporting activities

Adapting the rules or point scoring systems of games can allow people of different abilities and ages to play together at no cost. Using local materials to make cheap adaptations of equipment, e.g. using a dried gourd with grains to make a ball that makes a sound, or pairing players to play together, can increase the participation of all community members.

Suggested activities

Identify local recreation, leisure and sports opportunities

A first step is to identify what recreation, leisure and sporting opportunities already exist in and around the community. CBR programmes should work closely with community groups, e.g. youth and women's groups, children's clubs, and people with disabilities, to identify these.

Facilitate the participation of people with disabilities

Activities are successful when they are: requested by individuals and communities, culturally appropriate, enjoyable and fulfilling for participants, and not too costly to develop and sustain. To facilitate the participation of people with disabilities in recreation and sporting activities, it is suggested that CBR programmes:

  • provide information to people with disabilities about the recreation and sporting opportunities available in their local communities;
  • link people with disabilities to mainstream recreation and sporting clubs/associations;
  • ensure children with disabilities have the same opportunities as other children to participate in recreation and sports activities at school;
  • explore options for personal assistance to enable people with disabilities to participate, whether actively or passively;
  • facilitate positive media coverage of disability recreation and sports to encourage more people with disabilities to become involved.

Use recreation and sport to raise awareness about inclusion

Major events, such as the International Day of Disabled Persons, can provide opportunities for raising awareness, from national to local level, about the need for inclusive recreation and sporting activities. These events often attract positive media attention, which can raise awareness across a wide audience.

BOX 23Pakistan

The Blind Cricket World Cup

Following successful local and national media coverage of the Blind Cricket World Cup in Pakistan, some CBR programmes saw an increase in the number of parents asking about educational and leisure opportunities for their visually impaired children.

Encourage mainstream programmes to become inclusive

Often mainstream recreation and sports programmes have not considered including people with disabilities. CBR programmes can work with these programmes to explore how to make their activities accessible to all. CBR programmes can:

  • consult with national and international organizations to ensure that programmes are culturally and geographically specific, and available to people with disabilities of all ages, abilities, and genders living in urban and rural settings;
  • provide ideas and suggestions on how to safely adapt activities, equipment and venues, emphasizing that many activities can be adapted at minimal or no cost;
  • facilitate training for staff of mainstream programmes to develop their skills and confidence to include people with disabilities;
  • advocate alongside disabled people's organizations to ensure that recreation and sporting opportunities become available and accessible for people with disabilities.

Publications such as the Fun and inclusive handbook (11) and Sport, recreation and play (12) provide further information and examples on how inclusion can be supported in low-income countries.

BOX 24

School sports days

CBR programmes can encourage and support school sports days that offer opportunities for inclusion. These sports days can increase awareness and understanding among school- aged children by offering opportunities for individuals with and without disabilities to play sports together. The events are a positive experience for everyone involved including the children, parents, teachers, volunteers and sports officials. They can positively challenge attitudes and beliefs about disability and increase awareness about the sporting abilities of children with disabilities.

Develop and support disability-specific programmes

Disability-specific programmes provide opportunities for people with disabilities to meet other people with disabilities, and enable them to compete against others who are at a similar skill level. CBR programmes can:

  • ensure that people with disabilities are leaders and play a strong role in the decision-making process during programme development to make certain that recreation and sports programmes are suitable for their needs;
  • provide appropriate training and resources to support people with disabilities who want to set up their own recreation and sports groups/clubs;
  • link local disability recreation and sports groups/clubs to national and international organizations, e.g. the International Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disability, the International Paralympic Committee, Special Olympics International, and the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf.

Box 25Bangladesh

Connecting through chess

One of the largest networks of visually impaired people in Bangladesh is a Braille chess club, which has a network of clubs that reaches throughout urban and rural areas. This network provides opportunities not only to compete and develop skills but also to socialize and link with people of similar interests.

Copyright © World Health Organization 2010.

All rights reserved. Publications of the World Health Organization can be obtained from WHO Press, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland (tel.: +41 22 791 3264; fax: +41 22 791 4857; e-mail: tni.ohw@sredrokoob). Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications – whether for sale or for noncommercial distribution – should be addressed to WHO Press, at the above address (fax: +41 22 791 4806; e-mail: tni.ohw@snoissimrep).

Bookshelf ID: NBK310922


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