Disability Action Week: Sporting Wheelies encourage inclusiveness by: Faith Valencia
Celebrating disability sports during Disability Action Week Photo: Imogen McDonald
One in five Queenslanders live day-to-day with a disability.
Once a year, Disability Action Week is celebrated by Queenslanders with the aim of empowering people with a disability, raising awareness of disability issues, and improving access and inclusion throughout the community.
The Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association held team-building events throughout the week that encouraged inclusion and greater awareness within the community.
Each year, the Sporting Wheelies hosts the annual Tri-challenge corporate competition, where organisations nominate a five-person team to participate in three inclusive sports: boccia, goalball and wheelchair basketball in a round robin format.
This year’s event featured opportunities for people to meet and learn from national and international disabled athletes and coaches.
Tom O’Neill-Thorne is a 20-year old elite athlete who attended the event to share some of his personal experiences of inclusiveness.
He recently competed at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and is now playing for the Australian Rollers. He believes better awareness of disabled sports is needed in the Australian community.
“I got into wheelchair basketball when I was 10 after one of my mates somehow got into it, and he’s not even actually disabled or confined to a wheelchair,” Mr O’Neill-Thorne said.
Mr O’Neill-Thorne said he was lucky his coach of the Spinning Bullets, Tom Kyle, was really encouraging to younger athletes.
“The team was trying to go through a rebuild when I was either 13 or 14 at the time and that’s what gave me the chance to begin my career, that is where it all really started,” he said.
“I met people like my mate Matt McShane through the rebuild of the Bullets and now we both just had the chance to compete in the Rio Olympics all because of the initial inclusion from coach.”
Kelli Chilton, general manager of the Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, said disability sports are set up to enable people with all kinds of disabilities to be involved.
“The sports are set up to make sure people aren’t disadvantaged even if they have a high level disability, so that it isn’t about who is the most abled because then if it was about the most abled, Paralympics would be full of people with one hand and lower level disabilities,” Ms Chilton said.
She also believes that the low amount of coverage and exposure of disability sports has a significant impact on inclusion and support from the community for all people with a disability.
“We have many great journalists who do write great stories about our sports, but when you are competing up against sports like football, soccer and racing it is impossible to get coverage,” she said.
“When we do get coverage we don’t always want it to be the ‘wowies me’ stories and we know people love human interest stories, but our athletes want to be recognised as great sports athletes, because they are.”