Disabled athletes cannot always fully enjoy recreation due to facility deficiencies

The president of the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association says there is a deficit of arenas in Calgary with appropriate accommodations for athletes and sports enthusiasts with physical challenges.

Dominic Shaw plays sledge hockey as well as four other disability sports, and believes work should be done to give people with physical challenges more options.

“When it comes to accessible rinks there are very few,” says Shaw. “COP (Canadian Olympic Park or WinSport) is the only true accessible rink, which means you can actually use the benches and the penalty box properly; they put in fake ice and you can skate right in.”

Shaw says there are no other rinks in the city that have the same accessibility features as WinSport.

He adds that the Sledge Hockey Association is lucky to have a small army of volunteers to help out the youth players by “literally (pulling) them (youth players) over lips and humps, get their equipment in and out through doors and drag it down skinny hallways.”

Darlene Boyes is the recreation program coordinator for the City of Calgary, and is responsible for assessing and monitoring accessibility to recreation for those with disabilities.

Boyes says the Recreation Facility Development & Enhancement Study completed in 2014/2015 identified some accessibility deficiencies among the city’s recreation facilities.Calgary Scorpion teammates arrive back to the huddle after finishing the drill and shooting on net. Photo by Ashley Grant

Boyes would not provide any details of what her findings were when it came to deficiencies, but says a report will be issued to the council in the near future. However, Shaw mentions that narrow doors and hallways, and the lack of artificial ice to facilitate movement to and from the benches, are amongst a range of issues.

While practicing with his team, Shaw pointed out that WinSport is the only rink that he knows of that has transparent plastic sheeting incorporated into the boards surrounding the bench and penalty box area that is at eye level when someone is in their sledge.

Without this feature, sledge hockey players obviously have difficulty seeing what is transpiring on the ice due to the height of the boards.

Another problem Shaw explained was the space available on the bench. Again, WinSport accommodates such issues, but the distance between the boards and the physical bench does not suffice to be able to fit a sledge easily in most hockey rinks in the city.

The Ability Society of Alberta points out that common deficiencies are lack of ramps at the entrance and exit of buildings. Also making the list was the lip in entrances that are almost unnoticeable to the abled body, but some are so high that wheelchair users struggle getting their chair over that lip.

Donna Racette, the client services manager for the Recreation Centre in Okotoks, says that although they are striving to improve their facilities and make them as accessible as possible, they are still guilty of some narrow doors Shaw discusses.

“A couple of the doors to our fitness centre as well as our change rooms could be improved and we have identified that,” says Racette.

Boyes argues that the City of Calgary places a high importance on “continually reviewing and improving our facilities and services to ensure they are inclusive and accessible.”

End of practice scrimmage involves several odd-man rushes including this two-on-one break. Photo by Ashley GrantHowever, Shaw doesn’t see many signs of existing rinks being improved to help include people with physical challenges.

“We do expect improvement, but on the old rinks and the community neighbourhood rinks nothings happening.”

Although the ice rinks in the Okotoks Recreation Centre are not set for sledge hockey, Racette explains they have made adjustments to their aquatic centre, which makes it accessible to people of varying abilities.

“We have wheelchairs that can go into the water and we do have an access ramp,” says Racette. “We do have portable stairs that we put into the water prior to some of our aqua fit classes or upon request.”

Shaw has hope that the situation will improve as he was invited to take part at the architectural stage of designing for some future arenas to be built in Calgary, and says there are plans to include features to make them sledge hockey accessible.

Shaw also spends time visiting universities and colleges in Calgary, giving talks about the sport he loves. He says there’s a common response to a question that he poses to his audience every visit.

“One of the first things I ask them is, what do you think of when I talk about disabled or wheelchair sports, and they will say ‘Well gold medals, Paralympics’ that sort of thing.”

Shaw mentions that for him disabled sports are “the most normal of sports that I ever know.” He adds that wheelchair sports include not only athletes representing their country, but also those who want to get together and enjoy the sport like anyone else.

Thumbnail by Ashley Grant. 

agrant@cjournal.ca 

The editor responsible for this story is Zoe Choy, zchoy@cjournal.ca