President launches the UNESCO Chair

Tue 24th Feb, 2015 | 16:30
location: Business & IT Building, Institute of Technology, Tralee

“Transforming the Lives of People with Disabilities through Physical Education”:

Address at the Launch of IT Tralee's UNESCO Chair, Tralee, Co. Kerry, 24th February 2015

A Chairde

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu libh chun Cathaoir UNESCO – Eagraíocht Oideachais, Eolaíochta agus Chultúir na Náisiún Aontaithe – a  sheoladh go hoifigiúil; “Athrú ó bhonn á dhéanamh ar Shaol Daoine faoi Mhíchumas, ar a gClanna agus a bPobail, trí Chorpoideachas, Spórt, Áineas agus Corpacmhainn”.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an Dochtúir Oliver Murphy as a chuireadh agus libh go léir as an bhfáilte chroíúil sin.

[I am delighted to be here with you today to officially launch the UNESCO Chair –

“Transforming the Lives of People with Disabilities, their families and Communities, Through Physical Education, Sport, Recreation and Fitness”. I would like to thank Dr Oliver Murphy for his invitation and all of you for that warm welcome.]

There can be absolutely no doubt that it is one of the critical responsibilities of a democracy’s commitment to participation to ensure that every citizen is afforded that most fundamental right; a voice in their society and community. Therefore, as a country, we can take great pride in the fact that the Institute of Technology in Tralee has been awarded this prestigious Chair, which is an acknowledgement of the significant role the Institute has played in contributing to the advancement of the protection of rights for citizens living with disabilities.

We know that, sadly, there was a time when members of our society with disabilities, whether intellectual or physical, were excluded from many, many aspects of everyday life, and often unfortunately stereotyped due to ignorance, prejudice or misinformation. We also know that, regrettably, some of that stereotyping still lingers today within a society that can no longer offer as excuse any lack of knowledge or awareness of the great resource of potential, talent and skills that exists in abundance amongst those members of our communities who live with a disability.

Notwithstanding the many great barriers to equality that remain to be addressed, there can be no doubt, however, that today we thankfully inhabit a more inclusive society for people living with disabilities.  It is a transformation which did not, of course, happen overnight but came about over many years of persistent effort by committed citizens determined to effect positive change; and to ensure that those living with disabilities would no longer be invisible members of society, but active and very visible participants.

As we look back over recent decades we can see how many milestones were reached on the journey towards improving the lives of people with disabilities.  IT Tralee has played its own significant role in that changing landscape and has a distinguished and far reaching reputation for leadership in inclusion and adapted physical activity. Amongst its many achievements has been the establishment of a degree and Masters programme in adapted physical activity, the development of a European Fitness Inclusion Training for Work project, a residential camp for visually impaired children and, of course, the establishment of the CARA Adapted Physical Activity Centre here in IT Tralee, which marked and important milestone for the inclusion of people with disabilities in Ireland.

Already, through your hard work and commitment you have helped to instill, in many citizens living with disabilities, the expectation that they too can succeed; can aspire to live the life of their choice;  have their voices heard; their talents respected; and be defined by their skills and abilities and all of their possibilities.

Through the establishment and acceptance of this Chair, the Institute will continue to work on the very difficult interface between ignorance and understanding, between tolerance and intolerance, between prejudice and justice and between exclusion and inclusion.

The purpose of the Chair is to advocate for policy change, conduct research, and deliver education and training to facilitate the creation of a more inclusive society, with physical education, sport, recreation and fitness acting as conduits towards the attainment of social justice.

It is an inventive approach to an old problem, an approach which reminds us of the importance of constantly questioning the kind of world we inhabit and future we wish to craft. It is an approach which recognises that sport and recreation are integral to the achievement of the right to health; but more radically, it is an approach which recognises that access to sport and recreation are a question of human rights in and of themselves, as finds expression, for example in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Central to the objectives of the Chair are the development of unified collaboration and co-ordinated advocacy and research,  recognising  what can be achieved when individuals, groups and communities work together to achieve their common goals. It reminds us that, if we are to craft a shared future with shared hopes and a common purpose, we must listen to the individual voices that make up our society. We must be committed to gaining an understanding of the differing experiences and viewpoints which constitute the shared narrative of experience as we seek to create an inclusive citizenship.

The vision which lies at the centre of this UNESCO Chair cannot be achieved in isolation, but will depend on effective engagement and collaboration with key agencies and stakeholders nationally and on a global level.

You may, of course, be in the very early stages of this important initiative, but I know you have already been enabled to participate in a very meaningful way at UNESCO led events such as the Quality Physical Education forum, and the 5th International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport. You have also, I am sure, found that the establishment of the Chair has brought you opportunities to engage here at home with policy makers working in this field.

Having a UNESCO Chair focussed on improving the lives of those living with disabilities is something in which IT Tralee can take immense pride. It is a great recognition of the work you have already undertaken in this important field at a national level, and an acknowledgement of your capacity to lead at international level as we strive to create a truly inclusive society in a world where those living with disabilities are given the opportunity to develop their personal and social selves in conditions of freedom, communal solidarity, justice and equality.

In conclusion, may I thank and acknowledge all those here today whose efforts, dedication and vision have already made a considerable and positive contribution to the lives of people with disabilities, to their families and to their communities. I wish you well as you continue with your important work, and congratulate you on being selected for this prestigious Chair.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.