According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 percent of adults in the U.S. have some type of disability. And the state of Missouri is among the highest, with 24 percent of its adults having some type of disability.
The CDC also reports that adults with disabilities are 36.3 percent more likely to be inactive.
Vilariño recalls the first time he saw the team of men at Argentina’s institute for the blind play soccer — on a dirt field with rusty goal posts and broken nets, much like the one he grew up playing on.
“The ball made a sound so they could locate it. They had a guide behind the rival team’s goal to know where to kick the ball. And they used eye masks,” Vilariño explained. “There were guys who could still see a little, and they wore eye masks so everyone was equal.”
Vilariño had studied physical education and previously worked with the Argentinian National Rowing Team, but he quickly realized that the teaching techniques he’d used in the past would need to be adapted here.
“I learned I couldn’t explain a play on a chalkboard like a coach does, but I could use a plastic tray and some bottle caps so they could follow me by way of touch. I also learned they could run on a track if I ran with them, holding a rope. So we started looking for volunteers to help us run with them.”
“It was hard at first, it was uncomfortable, but I decided to overcome the discomfort,” Vilariño said. “And there came a time when it became the most fascinating job I’d ever had.”
He began to wonder what was keeping them from being a high-performance team — competing in soccer tournaments at the national or even global level — and after talking it over with the players, he realized they too saw no reason that they couldn’t perform at this level of competition. Knowing the intensive training it would take, the team told Vilariño that they were up for the challenge.
“We started to train harder, and the results were great; they asked for more,” Vilariño explained. They convinced CeNARD, the National Center for High-Performance Sports here in Argentina, to let them play at this high-performance level and overcame the great opposition and prejudice placed on them by other teams in the league — being referred to as “the blind ones” and being allowed on the field only when no other teams were using it.
The team trained hard, defeated all odds, and crushed people’s perception that they were not high performing athletes — going on to win two World Championships and two Paralympic medals.
“I learned from sports that disability greatly depends on the rules of the game,” said Vilariño. “I think change needs to come from every one of us. First, by leaving behind our indifference toward the disabled, and then by respecting the rules that do take them into account. They are few, but they do exist.”
William Woods bachelors in sports management students can consider the lessons of Vilariño and the concept of inclusion and accessibility while taking courses such as PED 220: Social Science in Sport, the analysis of the significance of physical activity in society and culture, or SMG 406: Management of Athletics as they learn to develop educationally sound programs.