University of Toronto Sports Inclusion Review for Students with Disabilities – The Varsity


In early September of this year, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games concluded with Canada’s victory of 21 medals. Although COVID-19 caused the games to be postponed and made training nearly impossible, a record 4,403 athletes have competed at the Paralympic Games. The President of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons, has said the Paralympic Games are more necessary than ever to put disability at the forefront of the inclusion discourse, and it seems that with the 4.25 billion viewers of the Games Paralympics, such inclusion could be very possible.

Although the Paralympic Games are over, people with physical and intellectual disabilities continue to fight for their inclusion in sport. Students at the University of Toronto must also strive to be included in the sport, so University researched sports opportunities for students with disabilities at university.

What it means to make accommodations in sport

Marissa Juanita Bangyay, a freshman life science student and person living with hearing loss, has found success in athletics. Bangyay grew up playing a variety of sports including soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, and swimming. In high school, she played on the women’s basketball team and hopes to try for the college women’s basketball team in the years to come.

When she joined her high school team, she informed her coaches about her hearing loss and her coaches immediately took action for her. Although Bangyay uses hearing aids, she said her team have implemented different ways of communicating during the practices, such as “wearing the FM system, standing closer to [Bangyay], [and] trying not to go too far in the gym where it resonates. In addition, during games, Bangyay’s team would be in a “caucus situation”, which allowed everyone to get along. When she was on the pitch and her coaches needed her attention, they would shout for her and she would approach them to hear further instructions.

Bangyay hopes similar arrangements can be made again when she joins the sport at the University of Toronto. Not only have her accommodations helped Bangyay participate in sports at the same level as her peers, but they also show that they can be straightforward. Of course, accommodations vary according to the types of disabilities suffered by the student, and some accommodations require more work than others; however, they are possible to implement, and that is what matters here.

motionball U of T

Sports opportunities for students with disabilities don’t stop at the Varsity Blues. The national non-profit association motion ball, founded in 2002 by three brothers – Paul, Mark and Sean Etherington – works to engage young Canadians in Special Olympics, a sporting event for students with intellectual disabilities. By organizing “inclusive sporting and social events”, motionball creates a supportive environment that celebrates differences through interactive and meaningful experiences.

Chloe Ellard, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), is the co-director of the U of T motionball event, a completely volunteer-run club that is hosted at 33 other universities.

Ellard said that motionball works primarily with students with intellectual disabilities, so they “try to consider… the space that [they’re] play… just in case someone needs some accommodations. Alongside Special Olympics athletes, motionball is hosting two main events: the Marathon of Sports and the #NoGoodWay campaign. The first focuses on half-day to day sporting event days in which teams of 10 join together to practice different adapted sports.

motionball organizes its sporting events so that participants of all skill levels can easily understand the rules through rehearsal and demonstration. Instructions are given verbally and in writing, and if the volunteers find any participants in difficulty during the game, they make sure to help. motionball hopes to create a space where students feel comfortable asking questions or asking for help by ensuring that its volunteers “never assume anyone’s level of skill or knowledge.”

“[motionball] at the University of Toronto… actually started four years ago, ”says Ellard. In no time, Ellard discovered that motionball at the University of Toronto was very successful in accommodating people with intellectual or physical disabilities.

Ellard is increasingly aware of the accessibility needs of students with disabilities through its university program. “In the third year, we take a course called Adapted Physical Activity, which teaches all about how to make sport inclusive for people with disabilities, [and] how to make sport more enjoyable, more accessible. Courses like this are mandatory for KPE students, ensuring that KPE students are constantly learning how to interact with different people in such environments.

University of Toronto accessibility policies

It can be difficult to navigate the University of Toronto websites looking for information on accommodation for sports players, but the university offers some options.

Sports policies, as well as additional resources including the University of Toronto’s Declaration of Commitment to Persons with Disabilities, can be found on the UTSC websites. UTSC Sports and Recreation Department lists “[creating] a community that includes all people ”as one of its many charitable commitments.

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Center supports this goal by making the center itself fully accessible, and it recently provided a state-of-the-art wheelchair accessibility facility at its Tennis Center.

Additionally, UTSC Athletics and Recreation also lists the programs it has put in place to promote inclusiveness. on his website, such as fitness classes designed for all levels, educational classes, and opportunities such as recreational sports and varsity intramural teams. With sports ranging from yoga and archery to table tennis and basketball, it is fair to say that UTSC is committed to making the sport accessible to all students.

In addition, at UTSG, the KPE website has several resources related to sport and athletics. In addition, they deliver student outreach programs in conjunction with the Diversity and Equity team of Sports and Recreation, a group of UTSG students who promote diversity and inclusion at sides of physical and mental health; and MoveU, a three-campus initiative that promotes healthy lifestyles through social interaction.

KPE First year welcome guide also includes a brief statement on their commitment to creating an inclusive environment and removing structural barriers, including ableism. While it is short and very few resources in the guide explicitly mention or link athletic opportunities at the University of Toronto, it does imply that the faculty is dedicated to making room for students with disabilities.

In addition, in the past, KPE has organized sports events mainly for students with disabilities, such as parasport, in 2016, which was held in collaboration with the faculty equity movement in the hope of promoting the ‘inclusion. The event included adapted pétanque, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and blindfolded soccer.

Tracy Schmitt, four-way amputee and Paralympic bronze medalist in alpine skiing, was a speaker at the event. She spoke about encouraging students to help sports become more accessible. By organizing such events, KPE educates participants and provides a platform for people with disabilities to be heard, seen and represented.

UTSG students can also use Hart House website to find information on types of accessibility supports, such as elevators to all floors of the building.

The future of inclusion

There are many sports opportunities at the University of Toronto for students with disabilities, and many students with disabilities are interested and determined to participate.

“I wouldn’t say it was harder to get involved in sports and athletics,” Bangyay explains. “I knew I would be able to follow the team and my coaches because we all have this love for basketball.” The attitude of a player towards his handicap in an athletic context can of course vary according to the handicaps with which he lives, but this does not exclude the fact that everyone has passions and should have the opportunity to refine them. And sometimes, as Bangyay points out, “it’s just about having fun playing the right games.”

Much can be done to create sporting opportunities for people with disabilities. The U of T is off to a good start, but it can do more, from building more accessible gyms to creating and marketing more sports clubs to people with disabilities.

We must continue to provide sports opportunities for people with disabilities and strengthen their representation. “You shouldn’t be defined based on [on] your disability, ”Ellard said. “You must be defined according to [on] your ability.

Disclosure: Simran Randhawa is a member of University ‘Board of Directors.


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