As early as 460 BC, Hippocrates, the famous Greek Physician and Father of Medicine acknowledged the importance of exercise for strengthening the body, enhancing recovery from diseases, and for prevention and care of mental problems. Indeed, according to the available literature, regular physical activity has been variously said to prevent osteoporosis, heart problems, type II diabetes mellitus, lower back ache, migraine headaches, among many other infirmities. Sports also liberate and enhance character development. These benefits of sports and exercise to the community must be enjoyed by people with and without disabilities without favor or discrimination. Similarly, a lot has so far been achieved on enhancing the full potential of people with disabilities through sports in Kenya and elsewhere in the world, both historically and in contemporary days. For instance, Pierre de Coubertin's effort in reviving the Modern Olympics in 1896 emanated from his strong desire to transform the French population into a formidable, cohesive nation; a desire that he later extended to the rest of the world. de Coubertin's modern Olympics desire of enhancing people's capacity through sports has today led to the Paralympics movement which ensures among other things that, persons with disabilities are not marginalized in the local and global society. It is in line with this background that Kenya has made a tremendous effort in ensuring a full involvement of the persons with disabilities in sports for the aforementioned benefits. This paper illustrates the efforts that have been made in Kenya today toward enhancing the life of persons with disability via sports programs both within the educational institutions and within the community at large.


Studies and the issues that touch on disabilities are very unique and therefore they require a unique approach. Consequently, the most logical way of introducing this paper is by adopting an equally unique approach which involves first and foremost taking the reader through some key terms and their meaning as used in sports for persons with disabilities. The meaning of these terms as provided below is based on the expounded explanations by either of two dictionaries, namely, the Longman Dictionary of contemporary English (Procter, 1984) and Collins English Dictionary (Sinclair, 1995).

Key terms in disability sports and their definitions

to increase in value, power or beauty


Mainstreamed program:
An academic or sports program which combines both the impaired learners/ sports participants with the non-impaired ones

Paralympics/ Paralympics Games:
A sporting event, modeled on the Olympic Games, held solely for competitors with visual and physical disabilities. Etymologically, the word "Paralympics" is derived from two Greek words, namely, "para" which means "parallel" and "Olympic" (Roger, 2005, p. 51)

Special Olympics Games:
Sports for people with intellectual disabilities that are run throughout the year to enable these individuals to acquire both recreational and competitive skills in a variety of sports.

existing in possibility, not presently active or developed but able to be.

Special Games:
Also referred to as adapted sport. These are sports and physical activities that have been altered or modified in accordance to the special/ impaired individual's needs or capacity to enable participation in order to benefit.

Meeting at which people engage in running, jumping, throwing etc for various objectives.

Physical education and sports as a means to self-actualization for persons with disabilities

According to Collins English Dictionary (Sinclair, 1995), self-actualization is a psychological "process of establishing oneself as a whole person, able to develop one's abilities and to understand oneself". Physical education is "an educational based subject that aims at total or wholesome development of the learner through use of movement and well selected activities. The overall goal of physical education is to influence and educate learners through physical means, which in turn results in outcomes that go beyond the physical fitness" (Kiganjo et al, 2004, p. 1). Given this definition of physical education, its value in the lives of all persons cannot be over emphasized.

Participation in physical education, which includes various physical and sports activities, leads to a total physical fitness both among persons with and without disabilities and hence to self-actualization (Kiganjo et al, 2003; Katzenellenbogen, 1999). When persons with disabilities participate in physical education and sports, they are adapted to their levels of bodily conditions in order for them to benefit fully and attain total physical fitness, enhancing their cognitive, psychomotor and affective development. In other words, when one develops mental fitness, physical strength, and psychosocial well being through sports, one is thus adequately prepared for meaningful undertaking in other activities to the best of his/her capacities.

It has variously been shown in a number of studies that, persons with disabilities who participate in sports improve in strength, coordination, and flexibility. Both parents and teachers have always conceded that individuals with disabilities who participate in sports activities are less depressed, perform better academically, are more stable in behavior as well as in their overall social interactions. The overall impact of this participation was further emphasized by Nelson Mandela when opening the first annual South African Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp held in Johannesburg in December 1995 saying:

Disabled children are equally entitled to an exciting and brilliant future. We must see to it that we remove the obstacles ... whether they stem from poor access to facilities; poor education; lack of transport; lack of funding; or unavailability of equipment such as children's wheelchairs. Only then will the rights of the disabled to equal opportunities become a reality (http://www.cureourchildren.org/sports.htm).

According to the Olympic Solidarity Manual, 2005 edition, the revival of Modern Olympics by the 19th to 20th Centuries French reformer and aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, was basically an educational endeavor. de Coubertin developed this idea out of the challenge that was posed by a humiliating defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and attributed the defeat to apparent poor physical condition of the then French population. The athletic programs at the British boys' schools also greatly inspired him. Thus he borrowed heavily from Greek and Latin, which he made to be core subjects in schools, through which he aspired to improve upon the youth's health and athletic talents as well as their international diplomacy. This is the noble foundation upon which the universally renowned Paralympics games are also based as attested by the following quote.

The fundamental principal guiding the Paralympics movement is that, elite level athletes with physical disabilities should have opportunities and experiences equivalent to those afforded elite athletes without disabilities. … Competitive sports have proven to be an effective vehicle to promote equality, inclusion, accessibility and awareness about the capabilities of those with physical disability. … and dispel the stigma surrounding disability and illuminate the realm of possibility. … The first Paralympics Games were created in 1948 by Sir Ludwig Guttman, a neurosurgeon … when he organized the International wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. The first deliberate attempt to connect the Olympics with the Paralympics was made in 1960 when the first Paralympics games were held in Rome, just a few weeks after the Rome Olympics. In the first year of the games, 400 athletes from 23 nations competed in wheelchair events (http://www.paralympic.org; Roger, 2005, p. 51).

In 2001, an agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) which says that, the Paralympics would always come immediately after the Olympics and both shall use the same venue and facilities. Thus, as the Olympic athletes leave the venue, the Paralympics athletes get in; hence both categories use the same village and the same facilities and systems. This ensures equity. It also signifies that both programs are perceived similarly in terms of their benefits to the society and to the participants. In other words, they are both an instrumental vehicle towards self-actualization for the participants irrespective of their physical conditions. Indeed, the Paralympics may be perceived as more significant considering the level and magnitude of effort made both by the officials as well as the participants with disabilities to get that far.

Enhancement/ Actualization of persons with disability through sports/ physical activity in Kenya

The World Summit on education for all in 1990 committed all nations to work towards provision of education as a key to social-economic growth and a means to self-empowerment (http://www.cureourchildren.org/sports.htm) Thus, learners with special needs must be given an attention that is commensurate to their conditions in educational institutions. According to available literature, the majority of persons living with disabilities lead a sedentary lifestyle because their caregivers are either overprotective or they do not know how to handle them and thus their physical participation are tremendously hampered (Graham, 2001). Consequently, individuals with disabilities are often sidelined at the peripheries of physical activities venues and are thus forced to remain permanently as passive participants. This is a form of discrimination based on physical conditions of the learners and should be discouraged at all costs.

A notable effort has been made in Kenya towards offering a viable solution to the aforementioned situation. For instance, a report on the Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training for the Next Decade and Beyond (Government of Kenya, 1988) recommended integration or mainstreaming of learners with disabilities within the Kenyan education system. Similarly, according to the Kenyan Ministry of Education's 2006-2011 Strategic Plan, the Government of Kenya supports the training of teachers in special education at various institutions such as Kenya Institute of Special Education (K.I.S.E.) which was established in 1986, and Kenyatta University (Kenyatta University, 2006-2009 Calendar; http://www.ku.ac.ke; Government of Kenya, 2006). This is a highlight of Kenya government's commitment towards improving the destiny of persons with disabilities. The Kenya Institute of Special Education trains special education teachers at a Diploma level. These are teachers who have specially been trained to understand, cope and teach persons with disabilities with the view to ensuring they too benefit fully from education programs offered in the country. Kenyatta University's Department of Special Education trains teachers for the said purpose at Bachelor's, Master's and PhD degree levels. Similarly, the Department of Exercise, Recreation and Sports Science offers courses in Adapted Physical Education at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels to students who desire to work with individuals with disabilities. These institutions and others that have later on proliferated have been significant pillars in the development of special education programs and their respective human and physical resources in the country. Indeed, the development and expansion of special education programs as well as their respective disability sports programs in Kenya is a clear indication that the Government of Kenya is determined to extend the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the entire population including the persons with disabilities as vital key players. The eight MDGs which were declared by the United Nations for achievement by 2015 are listed below (Kenyatta University, 2006) and their attainment therefore becomes very possible with expansion of special education/ special physical education and sports programs within the country. These are:

  1. Eradication of poverty and hunger,
  2. Achievement of universal primary education,
  3. Promotion of gender equity and women empowerment,
  4. Reduction of child mortality,
  5. improvement of maternal health,
  6. Combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases,
  7. Environmental sustainability,
  8. Establishment of global partnerships for development

Indeed, through accessible facilities and training programs, Kenyatta University has attracted the highest number of students with disabilities into various degree programs compared to any other university in Kenya. At Kenyatta University, Kenya Institute for Special Education and all teacher training colleges, teacher-trainees take Adapted Physical Education courses where they are inducted into the necessary methodological approaches required to enhance full participation of learners with disabilities (Kenyatta University 2006 - 2009 Calendar; www.ku.ac.ke). The aim here is to promote self actualization of these individuals through sports just as the case has been amongst those without disabilities. One of the best organized and most vibrant levels of sports competitions in Kenya, namely Teachers' Training Colleges Sports Competitions, effective 2007, included sports for persons with disabilities for teacher trainees who are mainstreamed into sports competitions in various disciplines. This is a breakthrough in nurturing of persons with impairments through sports at the educational institutions in Kenya. This approach is expected to unearth the hidden sports potentials of individuals with disabilities. The participants' fitness and self-esteem will also be improved. Individuals with disabilities now participate in a variety of sporting programmes around the country. These sports are managed under the umbrella of disability organizations that are run by voluntary organizations. Examples of such disability sports organizations in Kenya are shown here below:

Special Olympics Program

The organization runs year round sports activities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. This organization is affiliated to the Special Olympics International which is run under the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Foundation. Through a process of divisioning, individuals whose abilities range from mild to severe are provided with opportunities to participate in such activities as football, handball, swimming and athletics at recreational and competitive levels. Kenya has been an active participant in international Special Olympics competitions that are held the year preceding the Olympic Games. Many of the coaches used in Special Olympics programmes work with athletes on a voluntary basis. The Special Olympics has been able to do this through volunteer training programmes. The Department of Exercise, Recreation and Sports Science at Kenyatta University has been at the forefront in training students as volunteers to serve athletes with intellectual disabilities.

photograph of a classroom viewed from the back of the room. the chalkboard is covered by a banner reading 'special olympics kenya volunteer training'.  there is one man standing in an aisle between rows of desks where people are sitting.  the people are wearing t-shirts labeled 'volunteer'.

Through the Special Olympics Kenya country programme, students at Kenyatta University are annually trained as Special Olympics volunteers

Kenya Paralympics Sports

scan of photograph showing two runners, one blind, holding the two ends of a rope while running

Guided running for blind athletes

This is the organization that runs sports for persons with physical and visual disabilities. They participate in a variety of sports both recreationally and competitively. These include athletics, wheelchair tennis, basketball, swimming and cycling among others. The Kenya Paralympics programme is very expansive as it involves a variety of individuals with different disabilities. These include those with visual and physical disabilities, including amputees, as well as albinism. The categorization of the disabilities and their extent ensures that all levels are catered for in the competitions. In addition, there are a variety of adaptations used in these sports. For example, use of wheelchair ensures persons with disabilities can move on their own and play like others. In other cases the use of teacher aides increases the support the athlete has to participate. The teacher aide also serves as the assistant to the instructor so that the teacher can have time to attend to others. Modification of rules and equipment on the other hand allows the individual with disability to utilize the abilities he/she has to perform. For example, the tennis player is allowed two bounces to enable him/her to reach the ball.

Sports for the Deaf

Those with hearing impairments have an opportunity to participate in inclusive and separate sports in Kenya. Where the sport requires communication, the referee has to use signs. Many individuals with hearing impairments however, continue to actively participate in integrated sports with limited support. There is need for more attention towards deaf sports to attract more into sports.

Kenyatta University Disability Sports Association (KUDSA)

Some members of KUDSA in the University Gymnasium

There is a new impetus to involve the ever increasing number of students with disabilities at the University. During the 2008/2009 academic year, the number of these students rose to 110. These include students with visual and physical disabilities. The Kenyatta University Disability Sports Association (KUDSA) aims at empowering students with disabilities to participate in sports at both recreational and competitive levels. Through the association, students with disabilities participate competitively in athletics, tandem cycling, goal ball, swimming and weight training. It is expected that with the interest created, more students with disabilities in other universities will be encouraged to participate in sports. The students and lecturers of the Department of Exercise, Recreation and Sports Science have initiated this effort with a view to ensuring that the students with disabilities benefit from the abundantly available sports programs at Kenyatta University However, the challenge the disability sports continue to have is limited adapted facilities, equipment and trained personnel in the area of adapted sports.


The right to education for every individual, as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, coupled with the pledge made by the world community at the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, has helped to increase the involvement of governments and other organizations in catering for persons with disabilities. This applies both in Kenya and else where in the world. As a result, many individuals with disabilities are now accessing public sport facilities to train and compete at national and international levels. Kenya disability sports are now running shoulder to shoulder with other regular sports with government support.


  • Gay L. R. (1976). Educational Research Competencies for Analyses and Application. Ohio: Charles E. Merill.
  • Government of Kenya, (1988). Report on the Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower training for the Next Decade. Nairobi: Government Printers.
  • Government of Kenya, (2006). Ministry of Education Strategic Plan 2006 - 2011. Nairobi: Government Printers.
  • Graham, W. (2001). Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education. London: Mayfield publishing Company.
  • Katzenellenbogen, E. H. (1999): Educational Dance in Physical Education Curriculum. In Physical Education and Sports in Africa by Amusa L.O, Toriola A.L., and Onyewadume I.U ( Eds) Ibadan: LAP Publications ( ISBN 978-32467- 5-5).
  • Kenyatta University 2006 - 2009 Calendar, Nairobi, Kenya: http://www.ku.ac.ke
  • Kenyatta University (2006). The Role of African Universities in the Attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Nairobi: (Author). Kiganjo, G., Kamenju, J., and Mwathi, L. (2003). Physical Education. A Teacher's Guide for Form 2 Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. Kiganjo, G., Kamenju, J., and Mwathi, L. (2004). Physical Education. A Teacher's Guide for FormThree. Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. Procter, P (1984). Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Essex: Longman.
  • Roger, J. (2005). Sport Administration Manual. Alberta: Olympic Solidarity/ International Olympic Committee; http://www.paralympic.org
  • Sinclair, J. M. (1995). Collins English Dictionary (Up Dated Edition). Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers
  • http://www.cureourchildren.org/sports
  • http://www.unicef.org/wsc/plan.htm
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