First Sports Envoys with Disabilities Travel to China to Advance Disability Rights and Inclusion

Dr. Becky Clark and Dr. Andrea Woodson-Smith pose with participants. Dr. Becky Clark and Dr. Andrea Woodson-Smith pose with participants. Addressing the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities in China has emerged as a significant foreign policy issue in the twenty-first century. Dr. Becky Clark and Dr. Andrea Woodson- Smith made a historical trip serving as the first ever disabled sports envoys to travel on behalf of the State Department to Guangzhou, China.

The duo set out to promote inclusion and equality for persons with disabilities-- especially women and girls-- in sports and discuss disability policy with Chinese leadership.  This program is a product of joint discussions between U.S. and Chinese leaders at the 2012 U.S.-China Consultation on People to People Exchange (CPE) meetings in Beijing.

In Guangzhou, Dr. Woodson-Smith and Dr. Clark had conversations with persons with disabilities, as well as students, and organizations supporting persons with disabilities on the topic of disability sports culture in the United States.

Dr. Woodson-Smith is a college professor at North Carolina Central University and former U.S. national women’s wheelchair basketball team member. Today, she plays with the Dallas Lady Mavericks and the Charlotte Rollin’ Bobcats. Dr. Clark-- in addition to being a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist-- played basketball for the University of Tennessee, is a three-time volleyball Deaflympian, and  an accomplished marathoner and softball player

The two female scholars and elite athletes with disabilities were profoundly impacted by the exchange, expanding their view on disability and gender rights on the other side of the world.

“We learned that some of the girls who were blind were dribbling a basketball for the first time in their lives,” Dr. Clark observed.

The former Paralympian and Deaflympian led sports clinics for youth with disabilities at different venues around Guangzhou – a training center for the handicapped, vocational school, a residential school for the blind, and a national training center for elite athletes with disabilities – but there was one aspect that all of these places shared in common.

“These were venues in which the students with disabilities are segregated from students without disabilities,” says Dr. Woodson-Smith.

The two Sports Envoys also recognized the role that gender played in female’s lack of participation in sports. 

Dr. Clark stated, “The students with disabilities were eager to participate, but typically did so by gender…the boys were more active and had access to sports equipment whereas the girls watched, did not have access to the same types of equipment or played by themselves.” Dr. Woodson-Smith continued, “we learned that many of these youth, especially females with disabilities, had very little opportunity or encouragement to participate in physical activity,”

Although they were in Guangzhou to advance disability rights, gender equality and inclusion, Dr. Clark and Dr. Woodson-Smith quickly realized that they also served as role models for females with disabilities.

Dr. Clark commented, “We make for a great team, serving as role models for persons with disabilities, especially women and girls.”
Both of the sports envoys were honored  they could travel to China to promote inclusion and equality for persons with disabilities, especially women and girls, in sports.

“We were overjoyed and inspired by each of these students – male and female alike,” says Dr. Woodson-Smith.