Ontario Parasport Access Expo 2021

Approximately 14% of Canadians have a sensory, intellectual, or physical disability (this includes persons with more than one disability). That’s 5.7 million Canadians.

In a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, in partnership with Athletics Canada and the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance, it was determined that 25% of Canadian para-athletes have had negative sports experiences and are disproportionately subject to abuse and discrimination.

Numerous barriers and gaps exist in the adaptive fitness industry that limit access, participation, and the overall availability of quality programming for persons with disabilities. ParaSport® Ontario works to connect the existing gaps to aid individuals throughout the province in getting started with positive introductions to adaptive sports and physical activities. We would not be able to position ourselves as a thought-leader and trusted resource hub in this sector, which includes the adaptive fitness industry, without advocacy and awareness about quality first-experiences from our partners and supporters. 

ParaSport Ontario partners with organizations that provide pathways to health and wellness, recreation and sport, and opportunities to share stories with others. The Canadian Long-Term Development (LTD) model illustrates stages that children and youth pass through that affect their capacity to participate in physical activity and sport.

Importantly, however, individuals with diverse abilities may pass through stages at different ages depending on when they first become active or acquire their impairment. An interesting consideration taken by The Sport for Life model is the additional two stages of Awareness and First Contact for athletes with differing abilities and/or complex profiles. This is where ParaSport Ontario influences athlete development, always with a lens on facilitating lifelong partnerships.

For example, finding the right recreational space for individuals with physical limitations can be a time-consuming journey of researching programs, looking for contact persons, and mustering the confidence to give it a go. Throw in sourcing informed or experienced instruction and securing the proper equipment to get a quality workout as other barriers sometimes, and motivation and incentive can dwindle.

Paul Gabay, owner of Resolution Fitness, offers fitness equipment and professional industry advice for commercial and residential settings. Resolution Fitness, in addition to traditional machines, specializes in sourcing adaptive and wheelchair-accessible fitness products for gyms and recreation facilities. Gabay offers his support and expertise to the parasport community, enabling access to adaptive equipment that individuals can purchase for their home. He also advocates for mainstream fitness facilities to provide adaptive programming and equipment for clientele of all abilities.

For girls, sport can be the first step to leadership – helping to develop the confidence and resilience they bring to their education, careers, and communities. Discouragingly, however, research from The United Nations (2016) estimates that 93% of women with disabilities are not involved in sport or recreation at all and that women represent one-third of athletes with disabilities in international competitions.

ParaSport and SeeWhatSheCanDo share the perspective that now is the time for bold action and investment in active women of varying abilities. In partnership with SeeWhatSheCanDo and Flex for Access Inc., ParaSport Ontario is working to increase the awareness and availability of resources and programming available for female para-athletes.

Using evidence-based criteria developed by the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance in partnership with Sport Canada, we hosted a roundtable discussion about the existing sport programs and experiences (recreational and high-performance) for women with a disability in Ontario. Workshop organizers and participants pooled expertise together and created a resource kit featuring insights on the unique opportunities and challenges for women with diverse abilities plus inclusive marketing, recruitment, and adaptive program tips and best practices from elite para-athletes and industry pros.

ParaSport Ontario prioritizes connections that promote resources and innovative solutions for increased participation in adaptive programming in Ontario. It is our mission to increase sport participation in Ontario with pathways for lifelong opportunities and to increase the coordination of adaptive sports programming in Ontario.

Let’s connect: communications@parasportontario.ca. Visit us at https://parasportontario.ca. Need a connection to someone in the parasport community? Just let us know.

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Emily is a recently graduated commerce student and the Communications Manager for ParaSport Ontario, but she holds many roles within the organization. Her mission is to provide support to all members of the disability community – regardless of age or stage in life – to find, connect with, and participate in competitive and recreational sport programs and activities of their choice to enhance physical function and quality of life. To learn more about parasports in Ontario, connect with her through ParaSport’s social media or on LinkedIn.