5 October 2023

Cycling, scoring and shimmying: Inclusive sports day aims to improve opportunities all year round

| Keeli Royle
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Zoe McCarthy from Zoe's School of Dance at UOW Sports Hub dancing with participants in the Inclusive sports day.

Miss Zoe’s School of Dance was one of the local organisations showcased at the Inclusive Community Sports Day at UOW. Photos: Keeli Royle.

An inclusive sports day in Wollongong has connected families with local organisations dedicated to making activities more accessible for both kids and adults, but despite a growth in adaptive games and exercise, parents are hoping more progress is on the horizon to help everyone get equal opportunities.

Whether it’s throwing a ball, riding a bike or busting a move, participating in sports and physical activities is a staple for many Australians, but for people living with disabilities, it can often be more difficult for them to get involved in the things they love to do.

“People living with disabilities tend to find a lot of barriers to engaging and participation,” Freedom Solutions Inclusive Community Sports Coordinator Kyle Scott said. “Whether it be transport to the event, facilities at the event or rules, regulations and the actual ability to join in the activity.”

“They’re lacking the physical health benefits that are associated as well as the social benefits so they can’t feel part of the community they’re living in.”

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However, more sporting groups and providers have realised the benefit of adaptive activities, and events like the Freedom Solutions Inclusive Community Sports Days are showcasing the range on offer in the local community.

“Having a variety of sports at these events and different styles of sports is important because not everyone enjoys the same thing out of their physical activity,” Kyle said.

“So we’re hoping by providing access to as much as we can with local providers and programs within the local community we can find something that they enjoy and engage in long term after the events.”

People of all ages have come out to see what’s on offer, for themselves or for their children.

“We wanted to see what opportunities are in the community for him to be part of sport, there’s the physical element but particularly the social element as well,” one parent said.

“It’s good to see all the different things all in one place otherwise you’d have to go searching in different places to have them all come together is great,” another added.

Dual Paralympian and event ambassador Rae Anderson said events like this gave participants a safe, inclusive environment and the confidence to get involved in sport.

“These days are incredible,” she said. “For most people with disabilities, it is their first step or first taste in adaptive sport.”

“For me, I didn’t know there was adaptive sport as a kid and I started my adaptive journey at a day much similar to this a long time ago.”

Rae said it’s an exciting time for sport, which is evolving to be more inclusive and accepting.

“Just watching how far women’s sport has grown, I’m excited to see what that looks like for adaptive sport,” she said.

“Not only in the Paralympic and World Cup level for adaptive athletes but also at the local level as well, to see adaptive programs welcoming people with disabilities and giving the opportunity to excel.”

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Some of the organisations that were involved included the Disability Trust, The Big Issue and Miss Zoe’s School of Dance.

“I just think it’s so important for everyone to be involved and at Miss Zoe’s we’re all about that,” owner Zoe McCarthy said. “It’s not about competitions or eisteddfods or being the perfect dancer, we’re all about fun, fitness, everyone is involved, everyone is welcome, and that’s really important to me.”

After an exciting and motivating day, Zoe hoped that some of the participants would consider getting involved for more than a one-off session.

“I would love these guys to come to class because it just brings so much joy,” she said.

“We have some students with disabilities in our classes currently and seeing how the other students react and help that child out is just beautiful.”

Although the commitment to inclusivity by organisations like Miss Zoe’s School of Dance has helped the Illawarra thrive, one parent hoped that interest in accessibility is on an upward trajectory.

“We need to have the opportunities so kids can do the normal things that kids do.”

To find out more about inclusive sporting organisations in the area visit the Freedom Solutions website.

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