Access to Sport as a Disabled Person

From a young age I have always been involved with sport. I did everything from horse riding to gymnastics, and even a season of Auskick. But I didn’t become aware of disability sport until 2016 when I accidentally stumbled across it and discovered both Para Athletics and Rebound WA.

I was aware of the Paralympics when it came on every four years, but I didn’t know what existed for newcomers to para-sports, or what was available for para-athletes who weren’t elite yet. There weren’t (and still aren’t) many come and try days and no clear path laid out for para-athletes to know how to work up to become the best of the best. This lack of education and awareness meant the para-sports scene was a mystery for me until I was about 16 years old. Unfortunately there is still some way to go in order to raise awareness and spread information about para-sports.

For me, my athletic journey started off for me at the Ability Centre in 2014. Ability Centre was doing a research to see how running could benefit someone who had cerebral palsy (CP). This involved two to three days a week at Ability Centre doing running drills, testing to see how far we could run, and monitoring if we were reaching our goals. After the first couple of weeks, both of my parents could see a massive difference (for the better!) in my walking and my speech. I was getting better quality of sleep than I was used to, and my results in school were improving. For me, this is when I found out how much sports benefits not just the side effects of my CP, but also the rest of my life as well!

The Ability Centre’s running program was held over a 10-week period and my parents decided to re-enrol me in this for a couple more time after the first. But subsequent sessions didn’t appear to be resulting in the great benefits that the first program showed me, likely because of a lack of pushing from the physiotherapists involved, and this was when I instead decided to do athletics with the help of Rebound WA.

I originally started athletes as a runner, but a few months into training with other para-athletes, my Mum and I realised that running wouldn’t be for me. During this time of working out what sport I would enjoy competing in, I went through the process of being classified. For those who are unaware, classification is a process in which sporting officials determine the type and impact of your disability. During this process it was determined that I would be classified as T/F36 if I was running, jumping or throwing in a standing position, or T/F33 if I was using a wheelchair for running, or strapped down to a particular frame for throwing.

After I was classified, the sporting officials asked me what I would be interested in if I wasn’t interested in running. I wasn’t entirely sure but I said ‘maybe throwing’. So we went out of the classifier’s room and right to the other side of the stadium to have a look at some of the equipment for para-athletes. The piece of equipment which we looked at was a frame that looked like a chair, but had a pole on it. It was designed to be used by athletes competing in seated throws. As soon as I sat down in the throws frame I knew that this sport was going to be for me.

A few weeks after the classification, my throws coach invited me down to the stadium for my first session. He got me to try out some standing throws with the shot put, as well as some sitting down in someone else’s frame. But not long after he saw both of my throw attempts, he could tell that I would, without a doubt, be a seated thrower. Even since this day in 2016, I have competed in seated throws and have broken Australian records for under 18s and under 20s as an F33 athlete. From someone who never knew there would be a para-sports out there for me, to now having several records under my belt, I am very proud of the accomplishments I have achieved!

From my experience of getting into para-sport, I believe that there should be more advertising and awareness when it comes to para-sport. Rebound WA, the Australian Paralympic Committee and other disabled sporting associations are doing exactly this by going and talking to schools, doing family and sporting camps around the country and so much more. Every disabled person, especially children and young people with disabilities, should be taught about and given the best opportunity that there is, to have access to sport.

The Paralympic Education Program was started in 2012 by the Australian Paralympic Committee. Delivered to school age children, online resources and engaging activities are distributed to classrooms in order to help change the perception of disabled people and promote include. This program has now been brought back in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Rebound WA coordinate a program called Wheels Life. This program organises for interactive disability awareness programs to be delivered by elite para-athletes to schools, community and corporate groups. Participants are taught how to play wheelchair basketball, and also given the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of the para-athletes, in order to learn more about disability and para-sports.

Disability sports is becoming more accessible to disabled people as well as the wider

community. Through programs like Wheels Life from Rebound WA and the Paralympic Education Program from the Australian Paralympic Committee – these programs are breaking down barriers for disabled people and reducing the stigmas that exist around disability, as well as promoting disability sport at the same time.

Through doing programs like these within schools, community groups, and other organisations, there has been more education around disability and around para-sport. As a result of this, disabled people are more likely to participate in sport with the knowledge that there are sports out there that can accommodate their disability and level of experience.

Never tried para-sports before? Go out there and give it a go! My life would have been completely different if I hadn’t discovered para-athletics – and it could change your life too!