TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 26: Pat Flanagan

A podcast with Pat Flanagan
Pat Flanagan

Pat Flanagan

CARA Adapted Physical Activity Centre

Pat is the founder and a key driving force behind one of the worlds leading agencies promoting and educating about inclusive sport – The CARA Adapted Physical Activity Centre in Ireland. He’s made a massive difference – not just in Ireland – but across the world with his expertise, passion, good humour and commitment.

Transcript of the Podcast with Pat Flanagan

Peter:

Hey, today’s Tic Talks. Welcome to Pat Flanagan and from the Cara Centre in Ireland. It’s a good introduction. Need to catch up with Pat. Also here is EUCAPA Conference. Welcome Pat.

Pat:

Thanks, Pete. Thanks very much.

Peter:

We first met a few years ago now when I came over to Ireland. I think that was the first.

Pat:

The Adapted Conference that we were organizing in Killarney, yes.

Peter:

Killarney, which is on the west coast of Ireland

Pat:

Southwest Kerry, the beautiful coast.

Peter:

It is kind of a funny spot down there. You guys have been really driving a lot of world leading practice, I would call it. The practice in this area for the last few years in particular. When did the Cara Centre establish? Because it was kind of your brain child.

Pat:

The center, we opened it in 2007. We’d been running the APA programs since ’97 and it was out of that, doing the Adaptive Program, coming in contact with lots of groups with disabilities providing programs for them, that groups then started to contact us from different parts of the country. Could you do this thing? Could you provide programs for us? Where do we get information on–? And it coincided with a conference we were running in 2003 which basically asked people with disabilities to come to the conference and organizations that worked with people with disabilities and tell us what the situation was.

That was our first national APA conference and they highlighted things like lack of training, lack of information, lack of coordination, lack of appropriate facilities, lack of coordinate policy, lack of sports council policy. And it was quite consistent and to be fair, the Sports Council attended and funded that conference and they held their hands up and said, “Alright”. And to be fair, Peter Smith said, “Give us five years.” And we worked closely with Peter Smith and Sports Council from then on. And then the only report in Ireland on Inclusion of People with Disabilities and Physical Activity and Sport came out from Dr. Francis Hannon in 2005 from the National Disability Authority. And it was like a person interest she had herself. It was an initiative she had and that confirmed all the views we had from 2003.

Peter:

So where did the idea of a Centre come from?

Pat:

The idea was– And I go back to the first page of the authority brought up, was a one-stop shop. So the problem with people’s disabilities and I have a son who has a disability and the problem we have, I’m sure it’s similar in a lot of countries. You get a bit of a service here, a bit of a service there. There’s no place that says, “Look, here’s what we need to do for your son or our daughter or whatever, and it was the same in physical activity. Where do you get information? I want to be an elite athlete and compete in the Paralympics. Or there’s someone who is over-weight and I use a wheelchair and I want to go to the gym. Or I want to learn how to swim or I’m an amputee. Do you know what I mean? And the local club can’t help me. That type of thing.

That was the idea behind, that it was an information centre to correlate and to also highlight good practice in Ireland and to promote good practice and to increase standards. That led to training and led to a lot of other projects, so we initiate projects, we coordinate projects, we promote good projects and we had a website. And the idea would be we’d be a resource that would facilitate participation and then advocate for increased participation. That’s where it grew from.

Peter:

Okay. It was interesting. There’s a couple of things that I pick up on. One of them is key, I think, to the establishment of that and it’s ongoing support is the relationship with Sports Council. You mentioned Peter, who I’ve met, and that struck me straight away that you’ve got a really good, strong friend in the right positions, advocate, totally on-board, same way of thinking. Sure, that must have been an absolute key, I’m thinking. I’m sure there’s other people too, but…

Pat:

Yeah, but the sports ones were funded, the current centre, which Killarney joined and should have. That was the plan. The importance, even if Peter was particularly was instrumental, but just having the name, I felt that the Cara and the National Center for Adaptive Physical Activity, which it is, needed at the start to be identified with the main agency in Ireland who provided physical sport and recreation. Otherwise we’d be trying to fight a good fight, but people will say, “What are you doing? Where do you come from?”

Having the support of the Sports Council straight-away made it a more serious entity. I spent two years trying to convince them to do it and in 2007, they came up and they’re still a supporter and developing relationship with the Sports Council and that grew into the application for the Sports Inclusion officers and the grant of two million into sports inclusion officers around the country. And then they continued to help fund this positions. So they went from no program at all, really, in the country to a fairly extensive local authority, local sports partnership program coordinated by Cara. We knew that money was coming on board probably in mid-2007, so it was really key for us to have a coordination service that would say rather than putting 22 people out in the field, they work away, we needed to have key performance indicators, clear policy, clear pillars of action.

Peter:

Where did that framework outside– It’s not a lot of places that have that kind of framework. I think the Welsh guys. I’m not sure, I’m not knowledgeable about the Scottish, maybe the same?

Pat:

Well, it came for some meetings. I had John Harris, I think, and he’d indicated some problems, economic disability sports officers where they had put them into the local authorities, I think, on a part-time basis. But the work they did was so diverse, that it wasn’t really impacting on people disabilities and they had to bring them back and re-focus. So we started from there. We definitely borrowed and learned from but what they had done in disability sport forum.

Peter:

And I will talk also a bit about the education role, which is so important for the side goes, the sport inclusion development answers that are there. And also it’s a really– that group you’ve got and the staff you have. Again, you get the feeling when you talk to them and the guys are all on the same page. I’m sure there’s differences like everywhere, but there’s a fundamental single kind of approach and philosophy that everyone is kind of born into.

Pat:

And there’s a bottom line with that. Our job is to increase participation in people disabilities.

Peter:

And that’s clear, isn’t it?

Pat:

Absolutely and anybody coming for interviews for a position or coming up with a project, and that goes down a lot to Neil Daphny who runs the Cara Center. As I said, she gets it. That in the end, we can do all the training we want, we can do all the programs, we can do all sorts of accessible initiative, and I think it also helps us to getting funding from the likes of Sports Council, the Department of Equality and Justice, our minister for disability. I think people in those areas want an impact for the people with disabilities as well. They’re prepared to fund an agency who are prepared, who’s goal is to increase participation and access to disability.

Peter:

Do you take proof? It’s okay to go to the authorities for funding and support at the time, but eventually they’re going to turn around and say, “where’s you proof that it’s making any difference? Where’s the evidence?” I’m asking the question because know you guys are really good at that.

Pat:

We are able to show that the numbers increasing. I think I’ve given an example in our first two years and when we started off with the Sports Inclusion program. There was eight boccia clubs in the whole of Ireland. Within 18 months, there was 29 boccia clubs. Now that was a big impact and again, that boccia was one of our pillars, boccia, per-soccer. Per-soccer is a classic wheelchair soccer.

Ireland had a one club in Kerry and that was before the sports inclusion system kicked in. Now there’s eight or nine clubs, maybe twenty teams and we have an Irish per-soccer team, and under-16, under-18 per-soccer team and we were fourth in the recent European championships. From a very, very low base. And Cara would be particularly keen to provide for that type of group who would be more severe, physical disability, used wheelchairs and less access to other forms of physical activity.

Peter:

Had that been a deliberate kind of strategy to look at the people who have had higher support in needs?

Pat:

Higher support needs and in the statistics, another group would be, if you look at the figures in Ireland for participation in sport and physical activity, the intellectual disability group are very high, probably disproportionally high compared to other countries. Special Olympics is so strong in Ireland. So they’re very well catered for, especially when people have 80 staff, regional instructor. A very, very strong structure in Ireland and it just shows if you put a structure in, it works.

So we say Cara runs the Campabilities program once a week. It’s a full week of residential activities and we found in the statistics that that group are very, very poorly catered for. People with vision impairment were very, very poorly cared for. So we said, “Look, we’ll intervene in areas that we would make an impact.” What happens at the end of Campabilities again, and UDAFIA idea is rather than just bring them into the camp and saying let’s do lots of activities and have great fun and lots of one-to-one and lost of Caras, as we call them, working with the youngsters, it has been very successful. We’re going up to our sixth Campabilities now. The need and SAFA Cara link the youngsters with their local sports partnership and the type of activity they like to do after the camp.

Peter:

Excellent. So they come to the camp and then afterwards they’ll say we’ve got certain kids maybe?

Pat:

Yep. They go up to 40, 50 children and up to about 18 years of age.

Peter:

And they kind of broker then the relationship with a regular sport provider in the community?

Pat:

And they link them up with that and tell them the needs of the child and whatever interest they have, which allows a follow-on, which has been good.

Peter:

One thing I see from you guys, which is the same for the Welsh and other places I’ve seen, is that they really came to learn from other areas, learning how other systems are, the programs work, and the conferences en mass. How important is that to keep learning from?

Pat:

We’re very a small group. Cara’s only three staff. We have to work with it. We have to liaise with organizations. We want to be at the cutting edge of what needs to be done. We’ve links with Australia. We’ve strong links with the Halberg Trust in New Zealand. We’ve strong links with Disability Sport Comrue, Disability Sport Northern Ireland, EFDS in the UK. We’ve strong links with disability programs like Edworth Center in Edmonton in the University of Alberta. We want to know what the best practice is and see where we can bring that to Ireland and maybe even improve on it or make it more applicable to a more rural community say within Ireland, with very little resources.

So we’re open to– our main issue probably if you ask me is criticism are accredited too much. We always do. But it’s working at the moment and I think we’re at a stage now where I think one of the comment from one of the Sport Council people we inquest, recently said, “Look, Cara’s the only planned disability sport organization in Ireland. It’s a go-to organization for broader disability inclusion issues.” Disability inclusion training for example would be one of the areas that we’re expanding rapidly.

Peter:

What do you think though from part of the role of the sides are, you mentioned it already, to work with generic local sporting clubs and associations, has that been an easy process? What has been some of the challenges in working with a local club to say we’ve got this order and certain people with disabilities in the community, we think they’d be really good doing your sport. Let’s go. Let’s do it.

Pat:

Two levels of difficulty. One is working with the sizes themselves because they operate in the local sports partnership. They’re not implied by Cara. They are implied by the local authority and sometimes what they would want to do would maybe be a bit different than national plan that Cara would have. We do a lot of work on getting them to buy into an approach. And the most recent approach we’ve taken on that which works in the economic strained environment that we’re operating in is that we get money for projects from an outside agency and we offer it to the partnerships. So our recent one would be Accessible Leisure project, which we’ve been able to get funding for three years from the Department of Equality and Justice. So the first project dealt with accessible athletics and now we’re dealing with rugby and we hope in year three to be games. So we offer them the funding to set up clubs and to support a system of activities over time. And we think that’s a good model in these days. So we try and offer something concrete and then they buy into the type of thing we do. So that’s helped. Obviously then each local sports management has different emphasis in terms as well. And some of them are better, to be straight, Peter, some of them are better than others.

Peter:

Of course.

Pat:

Some partnerships are very proactive. There’s partnerships that have no sports inclusion officer who are doing great work. The sports development, the coordinators, and they’re partnerships, I think, we need to work more with. We would love to have the funding to have the sports inclusion disability officer coordinator specific for Cara. And we’ve put that to the Sports Council. That would be an important position.

Peter:

That’s quite, very inclusive model, isn’t it? It’s not your staff, the staff of the local authority and you play coordinating role and supporting role to them.

Pat:

And a guiding role. And we provide training as well for the coordinators as well, which is good. And they identify the types of needs that they have. So they help themselves, how do they manage their positions, again, depending on what demands have been put on them that they would ask Cara to provide training. And the other thing, we have the Cara focus which is– we like the Cara focus because it focuses on, it goes back to our basic premise. Maybe bring it back to the start where they’re providing information and coordinating and letting people know this is out there. There are things out there for them and it’s not that far away.

Peter:

It’s different than other sectors in my year, the coordinating facilitating agency is how I kind of asked you this question the other day. Assuming everything goes great and the Cara Center is still going, we often used to say in Australia, we’re working to do ourselves out of business and that things would be self-supporting and self-sustaining in that way. Is that one of your goals to think “well, one day we might not need to be, hopefully, not need to be doing this”?

Pat:

Yeah, in ideal world which I find– No, actually at the moment we’re getting a review done, an external review of our work to date and we’re looking at a three to five year strategy. We have a steering community of people who are not in the area of disability sport, a lot of them. They’re in business or media or politics who kind of guide us there. This is what it looks like to us and here’s how it might operate in a later society. Here’s how people outside of disability or physical activity or APA would look at you in relation to what you’re doing.

So that’s important to us and they’re very proactive in helping us either get funding or promote what we do. So we’re at a review stage at the moment. We definitely have changed our approach in relation to now we’re actually trying to directly fund projects within the partnerships by offering funds. An report done on inclusion in general made a point to us not long ago. I think by John Eddy on behalf of their Sports Council, maybe Cara needs to develop more of a back, a bit more of watchdog approach, and maybe take that role a little bit more. We work very much in partnership and we’re very much a collaborative, positive type of “we’ll work with you”.

We have intended to be “Well, this is not good enough, that’s not good enough. This needs to change” and maybe that’s the role. Maybe we have been a little bit too quite. Over eight years, maybe it’s time to say, “look, a certain amount has been achieved. Why hasn’t there been more progress in these areas?” Be more assertive about what needs to be done. That can have pros and cons, but maybe we’ll look at our overal strategy. We’ll see what we do and I think we’re planning to have a early, maybe March, April of next year, have our new strategy in place.

Peter:

One final question I was going to ask earlier. You’ve been in this area for a lifetime really. Do you think attitudes have changed since we’ve really progressed as a society more broadly? You’re very experienced in this area. Do you think we have changed that much?

Pat:

In the area of physical activity, inclusion?

Peter:

Yeah, inclusion. How do you seem inclusion–?

Pat:

Two areas. I’m concerned to say that I’d be happy to say that definitely there’s been improvements. A classic example would be when we started disability inclusion training, we were saying you need to do this. People were saying, “no, we don’t need to do that. You have to pay for that!”. At the moment, we can’t meet demand for courses, right? Now they’re very reasonably priced. They’re very good pack. It’s very well presented with fifteen tutors trained around the country. Recently Ken Black with us, providing excellent training, excellent weekend. Two guys in our materials and to help us adapt those a bit further and I know the children were very enthused from working with Ken and the staff like Cara have been very enthused. So that’s always good to have great people to come in and work with you. So if you ask me, I think there’s more of a demand for “we need to know what to do”. My worry is are people going to do it? And in the general society, are people going to access to leisure centres, access to training.

There’s a lot more work to do in the infrastructure to allow people to get to the physical activity, sport, and recreation. And then there’s the whole, I’m sure you’re aware, like the statistics show that people with disabilities are far more likely to be in living in poverty or reduced economic circumstances. So they don’t have funds to get to things. Lots more needs to be privatized, so there’s no local authority that can reduce costs. So I see pluses and I’m a bit worried that we won’t be able to maximize the access and the improvement. And the final issue which we’ve discussed and said before, what about the people with disabilities? We can provide the infrastructure and the training, are they going to turn up and make use of what’s available? And if they aren’t turning up, why aren’t they turning up?

And we just came from a talk from EUFIT, European Fitness Training for Leisure Centres, and an interesting statistic from the Irish Disability Sports Disability Survey from 2006, the vast majority of people with disabilities access physical activity recreation with a family member or carer. If you think of the leisure centre, you think of one person coming in. When we’re dealing with disabilities we have to think of two or more coming together and it costs that and the facilitation of that. I think if we don’t get that right, we can do all the training we want and it won’t improve things.

Peter:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right there. That’s a whole new podcast, isn’t it? You talk about how you drive the disability sector towards more participation because I suspect a kind of dormant sector there that can be awakened somehow.

Pat:

And the reason for that is the disability system, say for young adults, children with disabilities, even adults with certain disabilities who are more and more living at home. They’re dependent on family members in a lot of cases to get to recreation letter. Donna Goodwin did an excellent presentation which was a mandated in an conference, talking about the parental loads, the parental labor of getting them to– now if you add to that physiotherapy and getting to treatment and getting to other, education and getting to other forms of recreation letter, socialization.

It’s a lot to ask again to get to regular physical activity that people can’t get to independently. So I think I’d like to see more examination and even research if we need research into how can we facilitate that, get over that problem. And I think like Cara, the type of work we’re doing in inclusion club, if we address that one, it would be important. Maybe the next frontier for us.

Peter:

Yeah, a new frontier. Thank you very much, Pat Flanagan, for joining us under Tic Talks, more power to you and it’s a great pleasure to catch up and work with you guys now and in the future.

Pat:

Thanks Peter. Thanks very much.