Australia: Sport and disability

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MEI's Australian reporter Jane Symmonds takes a look at how disabled sport is treated in the land down under.

According to a recent speech made by the Australian Federal attorney–general, Robert McClelland, approximately 4m people (just under 20% of the population) in Australia have a disability of some kind. A report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006 found that 53% of people with a disability participated in sport, compared with 68% of Australians with no disability. There are a wide range of organisations catering to athletes with disabilities in Australia, from the community level through to elite competitors. Key among these is Australian Athletes with a Disability (AAWAD), a not–for–profit organisation formed in 2003 as a central administrative and funding body for organisations supporting athletes with a disability. AAWAD is sponsored by the Australian government's Australian Sports Commission. AAWAD's main duties include coordinating and promoting sporting activities, providing pathways for officials and coaches, providing elite national–level competition opportunities, and liaising with Australian and international governments and organisations. As well as providing news and information on a range of sports, AAWAD also offers twice–yearly funding grants to individuals and organisations to assist with training and selection camps, accreditations, development of sports and resources, hosting of championship events, and delegates attending international meetings. AAWAD is also responsible for the administration of the Australian Sports Organisation for the Disabled, the Cerebral Palsy Sports and Recreation Federation of Australia, and Wheelchair Sports Australia. Other national organisations (by no means an exhaustive list) include Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia, Blind Sports Australia, Deaf Sports Australia, Disabled Winter Sports Australia, Special Olympics Australia, AUSRAPID (primarily for people with intellectual disabilities), and the Australian Paralympic Committee. The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) is Australia's primary national sports administration and advisory agency. On behalf of the Australian government, the ASC plays a central leadership role in the development and operation of the Australian sports system, administering and funding sport programmes and providing leadership, coordination and support for the sports sector. The ASC's Sports Disability Unit coordinates the Sports CONNECT national framework, which works to develop pathways for people with a disability to get involved in sport, by creating and developing relationships between sports and disability organisations. At a national level, sporting organisations and governing bodies receive funding to develop a Disability Action Plan, with a focus on preparing both people and sports to be inclusive. The Sports CONNECT Network works at a state and territory level to partner with sport and recreation departments to provide advice, funding, education and training to sporting and disability sector organisations. The ASC gives the following example of the Sports CONNCT model in practice:"A Sports CONNECT Network (SCN) coordinator is working directly with a state football association in developing a Disability Action Plan. This state plan would reflect the existing national plan for that sport. Through the use of a nationally consistent assessment tool, the SCN coordinator is able to identify football clubs in a particular region that are prepared and willing to service people with disability. The SCN can then follow the same process with disability sector organisations, finding organisations that value sport and want their clients to be physically active. The SCN coordinator can then begin connecting the willing football clubs with the willing disability sector organisations in the same area, with the outcome being more people with disability participating in sport. "At the elite level, the ASC's Australian Institute of Sport is the country's premiere sports training institute. During the 1990s, the AIS had a specific 'athletes with disabilities' programme, but following the 2000 Paralympic Games, a move was made towards integrating AIS programmes for athletes with a disability with the respective mainstream programmes. Elite Australian athletes with a disability have enjoyed success comparable to that of their compatriots without a disability. According to the International Paralympic Committee, as of the Beijing 2008 Summer Paralympic Games, Australia was sixth in the all–time medal tally, behind the US, Great Britain, Canada, France and Germany. Access to, and use of, public venues, including sporting venues, by people with a disability is primarily governed by building codes and anti–discrimination legislation in Australia. As of 1 May 2011, the Disability Standards for Access to Premises will also come into effect, setting for the first time minimum national standards for accessibility requirements, and rectifying inconsistencies between anti–discrimination and building laws. The standards cover features such as doorways, lifts, ramps, toilets, wheelchair seating spaces, accessible car parks, signage (including Braille) and tactile indicators, hearing augmentation, and public transport. A spokesperson for the Australian Sports Commission's Disability Sport Unit told MEI that in general, Australian sporting venues catered well to both competitors and spectators with a disability. "How well they cater for disability depends on a variety of factors, " the spokesperson said. "Not least the age of the venue–the 'newer' a facility is, then generally the better the access and facilities. For competitors, depending on the event, adjustments are needed to support specific types of competition, for example, seated throwers in athletics require particular set up. These are usually set up by the respective sports and are well understood. For spectators, access is more problematic, particularly for people with higher support needs. There are schemes such as the Companion Card Scheme that allows carers of people with a disability free access when caring for people with a disability. More and more venues are signing up to the Companion Card Scheme. "

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