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Group Aims To Open Up Sports For Disabled

Adapted programs, from cycling to yoga to soccer, are ready to roll, free, in city-operated facilities

April 28, 2008
Helen Henderson

A new city council aims to unite Torontonians in a community-wide effort to open up the playing field for people with disabilities.

Unlike the often fractious group inhabiting City Hall's official council chambers, the Toronto Accessible Sports Council is all about sharing resources, collaborating on programming and joining together to speak up for change.

"If we do things together, there will be more for everyone," says Vanessa Anderson, co-ordinator of the new council, which will launch its initiative Wednesday at Nathan Phillips Square.

From noon to 2 p.m., you can get a first-hand look at everything from wheelchair basketball to tennis. There will be an accessible boat from the Queen's Quay Disabled Sailing program and even a simulated glider so you can feel what it's like to soar in a plane above the crowd.

Paralympian gold medalist sledge hockey goalie Paul Rosen will be among athletes joining Mayor David Miller as the sports council introduces a range of accessible sports opportunities, most of them free of charge.

Their message: "Try a sport. Meet an athlete. Build a movement."

"We want to remind people that sport is a positive, inclusive experience; it's social, part of belonging," says Jeff Carmichael, active living supervisor for the city's parks, forestry and recreation division.

"It's so much more than competition."

With start-up funding from Ronald McDonald House, the accessible sports council bills itself as "an advocate for change and equity on behalf of athletes with a disability."

Says Anderson: "The important thing is to get people out there, doing things."

Activities on the agenda so far include soccer, boccia, baseball, wheelchair racing, track and field, basketball, tennis, baseball, sledge hockey, adapted yoga, running and hand cycling.

All these programs are free and take place at city-operated facilities.

They run in eight-week sessions led by experienced sports facilitators supported by staff and volunteers.

The group also offers a number of free bonus "try-it" sessions in sailing and gliding.

For those who want to pursue sailing, there would be a $30 annual membership fee plus a charge of $10 for a two-hour sail. Fees for gliding vary, depending on the level of training.

"Over the long term, the council may begin to look at how we can provide support or subsidies for participants in programs," says Anderson. But at this formative stage, it doesn't have the capacity to do so, she says.

Last summer, as a precursor to forming the council, six groups combined forces to offer "try-it" sports days: Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Bloorview Kids Rehab, Motion Specialties, the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association, Paralympics Ontario and Variety Village.

This year they have been joined by the Ontario Cerebral Palsy Sports Association, Toronto Rehab, the Achilles Track Club, Canadian Head Injury Resource Services, Disabled Sailing of Ontario, Freedom's Wings, the Anne Johnston Health Station, Curl Ontario and the March of Dimes.

The whole initiative "will provide greater opportunities for all Torontonians with disabilities to be part of the community, increase access and equity and promote Toronto's vision of being a vibrant, inclusive, world-class city," says Barbara Anthony, recreation awareness program co-ordinator at Bloorview Kids Rehab.

The council hopes more disability organizations will come on board, organizing a group of participants or helping to staff events.

It's also looking for volunteer coaches, assistants and aides to program managers. Corporate support in the form of funding or volunteer staffing would, needless to say, be welcome.

For 2008, the council hopes to offer 10 programs at a minimum of five locations while it works to define its vision and attract more converts.

At the root of everything, however, is the desire to unite organizations that offer sport and active living opportunities for people with physical disabilities and "create a stronger unified voice."

The new Toronto Accessible Sports Council joins five existing city sports councils organized geographically.

For more information or to enrol in a program, see www.jointhetasc.com.

Reproduced from http://parentcentral.ca/parent/article/418977

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