Sports and Inclusion at Cope Foundation




Cope Foundation is one of Ireland’s largest voluntary sector service providers for people with intellectual disabilities and autism. Since its inception in 1957, Cope Foundation has delivered a vast range of services to children and adults with disabilities in Cork city and county. These services include medical, pre-school (early intervention), education, diverse training skills, health promotion, employment placement, retirement and care of the elderly. The foundation is delivering these services to over 2,800 individuals across the Munster region.

Cope Foundation, like other similar organisations, allocates financial resources to a range of therapeutic supports. These include Occupational Therapy, Speech & Language Therapy, Physiotherapy, Music Therapy, Nutrition, Cognitive Behavioural support, Social Work and Psychology.

However, unique to Cope Foundation is consistent allocation of funding to the provision of Physical Activity and Sports supports. Ever before other institutions or governments strategized or committed to resourcing this area of disability support, Cope Foundation recognised the social, physical, psychological and emotional value of an active life style, for all its service users.

LeedsLeeds AFC, Cork City – Men’s Special Olympics team

Cope Sports Department’s philosophy and journey to success

From the very beginning, the social / sports collaborations, sporting partnerships and strong relationships with other community-based organisations and individuals has been a top priority.

Cope Foundation has invested significantly in its own on-site sports facilities. These facilities are used both by its own service users and also in partnership with local community sports and social organisations in the evenings and at weekends. These activities are based on a non-profit arrangement.

The priority of these exchanges is not monetary but orientated on exchanging goodwill, engaging in shared physical activities and recruiting new volunteers. Working together for the common good is our shared vision.

coachesMayfield GAA Club – Harlequins Hockey Club –

volunteer coaches to Cope Foundation Men’s Floorball team

Disability Sports – Adapted Physical Activity (APA)

Organised disability sports resulted from the necessity for rehabilitative therapies for those injured during and after World War One and World War Two. Sporting challenges became an important motivational tool for veterans and there were significantly more developments in sports participation by people with physical disabilities, than for those with intellectual and mental health disabilities (Thomas and Smith 2009).

It was only in the 1960s that sports for people with intellectual disabilities became known. However, since the 1970s and the introduction in the USA of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (1990), there has been a growing awareness and development of services for people with disabilities. This has been mirrored by a greater global awareness for human equality.

Inclusive Sports Leaders

Cope Foundation has played a vital and seminal role in the evolution of a national network of key players who strive to make sports inclusion a top priority. Since the late 1970s, it has highlighted its own programmes of inclusive physical activity and sports and has significantly influenced many of the initiatives now present at 3rd level colleges where Sports Science, Health Science, Leisure and Recreation Studies all include adapted physical activity modules at undergraduate level. There is now an increasing number of postgraduate students researching the area of APA, Sports Disability Studies etc.

Cope Foundation has also worked very successfully to promote and advocate for the Sports Inclusion Disability Officer (SIDO) programme. Most Local Sports Partnerships (LSP) employ such an officer, whose primary function is to increase the number of people with disabilities engaging in physical activity and sports in the most inclusive environment possible. The Cork SIDO (Padraig Healy in 2018) and the PA & Sports Dept. work on a regular basis to develop new physical activities and sports opportunities across the city and county of Cork.

For more than 20 years, the PA & Sports Dept. has worked with various Irish and European 3rd level colleges, including the Institute of Technology Tralee, University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology, the University of Limerick, Waterford Institute of Technology and Dublin City University, the Universities of Alicante and Extremadura in Spain and the University of Bologna in Italy. These collaborations have enabled an openness of mind and access to the latest international trends in sports and disability studies.

The PA & Sports department has been priming these university students to carve out careers in APA and has promoted a keen realisation that people with disabilities may wish to engage in their chosen sport or activity at any one of several levels of social or physical inclusion. There is no ‘best level ‘of inclusion, just the one that works best for the individual. Self-advocacy and choice is strongly supported by the PA & Sports staff.

Several different, but similar “Models of Sports Integration” are used across the country; however, the PA & Sports Department action plans generally fit neatly into the Stephenson & Black 2012 model (Fig. 2) with mode and style of participation determined by the individual client him or herself.

chartFig. 2 – Stephenson & Black Model of Sports Inclusion


The employment by the Local Sports Partnerships (LSP’s) of SIDOs, has probably been the single most effective catalyst for the improved access which we have seen for people with disabilities in recent years.

This initiative provides service providers such as Cope Foundation with a community-based, pan-disability, centralised hub and regional network of others with similar needs and a shared interest in improving access to PA and Sports.

The SIDO position has enabled new advocacy initiatives such as the Sports Ability Forum, the Cork Football for All Forum, Cork Cycling for All Forum, Cork Basketball for All Forum, Cork Golf for All Forum, Cork Enjoy Tennis Project, Cork SportsAbility Day, APA Seminars and much more.

The Physical Activity & Sports Department personnel actively participate in each of these initiatives and constantly work to create new ones. We expect to see initiatives in outdoor adventure sports, equestrian and other activities in the near future.

In late 2018 or early 2019, a specialist therapy dog, TK, will complete his training and be included on the PA & Sports staff team. TK’s role will be to support individuals to engage in physical activity. –

In conclusion, Cope Foundation PA & Sports department will continue to create awareness of the benefits of being an active participant in physical activity and sport in a supportive environment.

The PA & Sports Department currently has 9 full-time and 8 part-time staff and one therapy dog, TK.

Terence McSweeney is a physical education teacher working in special education with Cope Foundation, formerly Cork Polio and General After Care Association. Cope foundation supports 2,800 people with intellectual disability and autism, both in Cork city and county, and throughout Munster.



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