One-Stop Shopping for Athletes

ACCESSIBILITY: A new council will provide athletes with special needs a place to access information
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, The London Free Press
Last Updated: March 13, 2010 12:57am

London has taken a lead role in establishing an accessible sports council for a largely under-serviced group of athletes.

With some seed funding from ParaSport Ontario, several London and area individuals from sports teams and community organizations have established the Accessible Sport Council London and Area.

"It was something very needed in the London area," co-chair Darda Sales said. "I've been an international level athlete training for the last 10 years with very little recognition in the form of media attention or awareness about sports that are available in the London area. It's a great opportunity for all the successful sports organizations to get together and have one collective voice, which is typically louder and better received than individuals all over the place just yattering."

Sales is a Paralympic swimmer, winning a gold and silver in two Games.

When the council is firmly established, organizers hope it provides something that's lacking in most communities, a one-stop shopping centre that will allow athletes with special needs to access information and expand their base of knowledge of where to go if they want to participate in sports for athletes with special needs. The idea came from ParaSport Ontario.

"I haven't heard from other athletes that they have this type of thing," Sales said. "They say the same thing. They don't know where to go, who to see, that everything was a struggle. ParaSport approached different cities to take it on. We were the first to grasp, the first to launch, the first to have all the protocols. It was great to see how quickly the London community came together to get things done."

Murray Howard has been involved with the George Bray Hockey Association for special needs players for more than 30 years. He is the president of the association.

Howard is a tireless community volunteer. He understands the void athletes face when looking for information or expanding awareness.

"It's a big hole," he said. "Probably six to eight times a year I have someone say to me 'It's great that you started this, you really needed this.' George Bray has been going for 41 years. Especially this council is huge because so often, people with children with special needs or adults with special needs, they don't know were to go."

The council is working on a website. They have a Facebook page and an e-mail: Additional information can be found on Tourism London's website.

Groups already involved with the council include curling, bocce, electric wheelchair floor hockey, paralympic swimmers, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but what the main focus for the group right now is making sure everyone who needs to use these resources are aware the council exists. The council is based out of the George Bray hockey office at Glen Cairn Arena.

One of the points Sales and Howard emphasized repeatedly was that the council was about information and providing help to athletes. Line advocacy may become a part of this somewhere down the line.

"The groups I talk to have been down the poor-me group and the pity stories," Howard said. "They were really insistent with our launch that while trying to get us known in community we push to the front and forward that they are athletes first."

Sales says a parent with a child they want to get involved in sports should contact the council.

"But (we) also want to represent the weekend warriors, people who want to go out and find something to do to keep them busy and active. Those people are just as important as the elite athlete," she said.

Among the next steps are increasing the volunteer base and working on a data base.

Morris Dalla Costa is a Free Press sports columnist

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