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"We can’t change the world, but we can build bridges"

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Laureus Schneetiger is an organisation that helps children with mixed abilities through snow sport. It is one of the first Sport for Development programmes in Austria, and the first of three Laureus programmes in the country.
Thorsten Genenwarth, Programme Leader of Schneetiger, looks at what has been achieved and what the future holds:
"The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted on December 13, 2006 by the United Nations. The purpose of the CRPD is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. 
Austria was among the first countries that ratified the CRPD. So, where are we now, ten years later?
Statistical data and recent studies show that persons with disabilities are still clearly among the most marginalized and excluded groups for a number of reasons:
  • They have significantly limited accessibility in major areas 
  • They face multiple barriers to accessing employment, education, housing, health or political participation 
  • There exist attitudinal barriers: there is a widespread lack of understanding of how to support them and create inclusive and integrated societies
How do we tackle these issues and make progress for those that have a mixed ability? After 15 years in the field, five as a part of the Laureus Family with Schneetiger, it has become clear how we can help: We can’t change the world – but we can build bridges. 
Laureus Schneetiger was one of Austria’s first Sport for Development programmes,. The programme works directly with schools to create inclusive communities for those with disabilities. The programme brings abled and mixed ability children together to face new challenges on the slopes through skiing. In the many years we have been doing this we have learned two things:
  • It is all in our minds – we teach children to see the ability not the disability
  • People with disabilities are not all the same - persons with disabilities have diverse strengths and needs and it is impossible to cluster them all into one group
Our project is designed to support any child coping with any disability. It has been designed so that any participating child can enjoy the sheer thrill of snow sports. 
Working with people with disabilities can be challenging because of the range of abilities and being successful requires certain things: 
  • A people-centred approach: Individual attention is paramount to making sure each child can enjoy the sport, but also be an engaged member of the group
  • What happens on the mountain doesn’t stay on the mountain: Working with children we link their extracurricular activities to what happens in school so that those with and without disability aren’t exclusionary when they return to the school grounds
The role of a programme like this is to educate children and communities so that they learn to be inclusive and we reduce the marginalisation of those that have a mixed ability. Very often though it can all come down to attitudes. Working with children to develop open minds and attitudes changes not only their futures but the futures of all those they interact with.

Attitudes play a major role in determining whether people with disabilities experience social exclusion. Sport in this case is a “social inclusion tool” that empowers and promotes the inclusion of marginalized groups. Sport helps to make things possible, which allows children to make things happen.
At the end of the day, on snow everyone is “handicapped” because we all require adaptive devices.
On the slopes we’re all equal.