The Role of Center Naprej in the Process of Community Inclusion of Persons with Acquired Brain Injury 2. 4. 1

Author: Jasna Vešligaj Damiš

Keywords: Center Naprej, inclusion in sports, acquired brain injury, rehabilitation

NAPREJ, Centre for Persons with Acquired Brain Injury is a non-profit organization from Slovenia. Our field of expertise is long-term psychosocial and health rehabilitation after acquired brain injury. All the services and programmes that we deliver (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychological, social and health care, employment under special conditions) are designed to increase active participation of users in society and to raise the quality of their lives as well as the lives of their families. An important field of our work are various preventive, counselling, and educational programmes taegeted at special groups and the general public. Besides our users we devote special care to their families – we include them in all phases of the rehabilitation process, providing them with counselling and support. The rehabilitation programmes take place at two different units in Maribor and Murska Sobota.

Our service users are people who have experienced severe brain injury, have a disability status, and need different type of assistance for daily living.

Center Naprej as an inclusive institution

Center Naprej holds an important role through its work and implementation of services, the role of integrating people with acquired brain injury (hereinafter referred to as ABI) in the local and wider social environment. Definitely, this is a very sensitive area, since we are talking about the people who are the most vulnerable and threatened part of humanity in the provision of declared rights, because they themselves most often cannot defend and demand their own rights.

Since most of our users need help of another person, it is important who and what are the organizations who provide this assistance. It is important to support employees with appropriate counselling, professional help, education and training, supervision and intervision. Appropriate learning and technical tools are also essential.

Center Naprej as an inclusive institution:

  • emphasises/encourages participation, not competition,
  • searches for solutions that are beneficial to all, considering their impairments,
  • prepares for relationships and life in the community,
  • establishes new relationships, connects an individual with others,
  • enhances respect and understanding of one another,
  • it is directed towards the needs of the individual – satisfying what is possible within or outside the institution.

The regulation of integration of persons with disabilities as a mirror of society

The regulation of the integration of persons with disabilities in the community is undoubtedly a mirror of the society as a whole (Štefančič, 2002) and a society that wants to enable people with disabilities to have better opportunities for development and that wish to accept them as equal members of the community must, to the greatest possible extent create suitable environment for their social integration and inclusion.

Joining the European Union, Slovenia has committed to following democratic values on equal opportunities and independent life of persons with special needs. The country is responsible for ensuring equal opportunities. It is especially important to think about professional and ethical responsibilities, responsibility for ensuring equal opportunities for all, which we have signed as a country with numerous conventions and wrote in the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia. To achieve this, a proper professional and legal basis that allows it must be adopted. There are many arguments in the professional literature that confirm this hypothesis, but unfortunately in practice it often turns out to be different (Bužan, 2011).

Persons with disabilities are an important social subsystem, representing a significant proportion of the total population: about 10% worldwide, about 15% in the EU, in Slovenia numbers are similar (Kresal Šoltes, 2006). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the Republic of Slovenia in 2008, has contributed significantly to the recognition of their rights. This has supported the greater realization of the objectives of the Action Programme for Persons with Disabilities 2014–2021 and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe at the national and local level in the everyday life of people with disabilities in the Republic of Slovenia.

People with disabilities have the same needs as all other people. In order to meet these, it is necessary to support them, help them recognize their needs, and even demand them. Every individual needs to be paid attention to his special features (Bužan, 2011). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ( in its Article 30 regulates this area of rights - the right to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure activities and sports.

Individuals with disabilities can experience a number of challenges in the process of inclusion in the community. They also often face isolation due to a narrowed social network, despite the fact that nowadays the whole developed world accepts the idea and the paradigm of inclusion.

What does “inclusion in sports” mean?

Often, in our work enabling our users (ABI survivors) to participate in sports, we encounter various obstacles, such as:

  1. lack of awareness of inclusion amongst people without disabilities and how to properly engage people with disabilities in groups;
  2. lack of opportunities and sports programs;
  3. lack of training programs for professionals and providers of assistance in the field of sports for persons with disabilities;
  4. limited access to some facilities due to physical obstacles;
  5. limited information, access to programs, facilities, assistants, etc. (DePauw and Gavron, 2005)

Sport and recreation can be a great medium that supports an active lifestyle and the development of healthy relationships between people with disabilities and people without disabilities, as they offer many opportunities for communication and rich social experience. Adapted sports activities carried out in the community promote and facilitate the full participation of people with disabilities in the real life.

Although sport activities can vary greatly (e.g. skiing, stand-up paddle boarding, horseback riding, biking, climbing, etc.), success depends not only on the characteristics of an individual with disabilities, but also on the skills and knowledge of professionals, assistants and volunteers who collaborate with them. These individuals spontaneously become partners in communication as a result of a shared activity.

Thus, through active sports and recreational experiences we encourage communication and social relationships. Groups cooperate to be successful and make the most of the experience of all interested parties. Sports should not be the exclusive right of a particular social group, but an opportunity for everyone to develop oneself through movement and mental activity according to their abilities. (Mihorko, 2014)

Sport can be perceived as concept defined by the President of UNESCO as “all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as playing, recreation, organized or competitive sports and indigenous sports and games” (UN Inter -Agency Task Force, 2003).

Over the past few decades, UNESCO has devoted many efforts to implementing the principle of inclusion at all levels in education systems around the world. The idea that they must “provide a system of inclusive education at all levels” is also a central objective of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These questions about the principles of inclusion are especially important in our work, when we support our service users in their return back to community.

Sports programs in Center Naprej - inclusive and adapted physical activities

When integrating people with ABI into sports programs, we are focused on two important aspects: the aspect of integration in general and the real value of sports activities. Sports must represent a way of social inclusion. Sports activities are introduced as a training content where, unlike educational activities, individual choice of sports activities can be made on a large scale, ranging from separate activities intended for people with disabilities to modified or adapted activities that are intended for everyone. However, it should be emphasized that each approach is equally important and valid, and there is no need to discredit the separate structures and to praise the role of the persons with disabilities involved.

We focus our attention on the importance of the processes and mechanisms of integration that happen in the area of sports, and on the questions what happens or could happen to ABI survivors when they enter sports settings. Involving disabled athletes in sports in the community helps overcoming prejudice, stereotypes and fears. The latters tends to occur most often as a result of lack of information about the life of people with disabilities, their needs and abilities. This is why this often leads to social isolation of children, adolescents and adults with disabilities.

The mechanisms of integration through sports allow them to socialize, meet and communicate in social settings. Sports activities can be adapted for each individual according to his abilities and capabilities and to the greatest possible extent; they are adapted for people with disabilities. Appropriate sports activities can be found for each individual, whether for recreational, rehabilitation or competitive purposes.

We include people with ABI in sports activities. Survivors may be:

  1. physically impaired,
  2. blind or visually impaired,
  3. deaf, hard of hearing,
  4. cognitively-impaired,
  5. speech-impaired,
  6. individuals with mental health and/or neurological disorders,
  7. individuals with emotional and/or behavioural problems,
  8. multiple impairments – combined impairments.

Examples of sports programs that we perform for rehabilitation, recreational or / and competitive purposes in the Center Naprej:

  1. rehabilitation exercise with or without accessories, fitness;
  2. water sports: rehabilitation swimming, swimming using Halliwick concept, water games, stand up paddle boarding, rowing, snorkelling;
  3. ball games (small, big, sound): football, basketball, netball, foot golf, tennis, table tennis, volleyball, crossboccia, bowling, boccia, badminton, speedminton;
  4. walking, Nordic walking, hiking, slack line, orienteering, running;
  5. winter sports: alpine skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, skiing;
  6. sports with animals: rehabilitation horseback riding, rehabilitation fishing;
  7. dancing, cheer leading.

If we are committed to work promoting the health of our users, we need to think about ways to increase their physical activity considering their individual differences. Consequently this could be an important contribution to achieving a healthier lifestyle. Participation in sport can significantly improve their health, well-being and quality of life.

When adding sports programs into rehabilitation, we are aware that for people with ABI sports may impact physical condition in different ways - good blood circulation, stronger muscles, improved balance and coordination, etc. But sports can offer much more. People who engage in sports also benefit from a number of psychological benefits, such as improved self-esteem, self-discipline and self-confidence, and confidence in their abilities and capabilities. We also notice an improved anger management and the ability to deal with stressful situations more effectively than those ABI survivors who are less active. They are more cooperative and interactive with others. They have more opportunities to gain a sense of responsibility towards themselves and others. Sport provides them with something to looking forward to.

After suffering a brain injury, individuals may find it difficult to cope in ordinary situations and activities of daily living, so they experience many losses in their new lives. Therefore it is very important that we help them find something they cannot only cope with but also enjoy. Sport can give them a reason to live.

Therefore, we can state that sport is a platform for acquiring knowledge and life skills as well as an opportunity for social inclusion.


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