Hurry Hard on Access
Ryan Van Keulen, technical director of Wheelchair Sports Alberta, (right) teaches Ayo Olawuyi to curl at the Parasport demonstration at St. Gabriel’s in Fort Mcmurray, Alta on Dec. 1, 2018. Wheelchair Sports Alberta demonstrated several wheelchair sports to the community during a visit to Fort Mcmurray to promote accessability in sports.
Cassandra Davis Olawuyi’s son, Ayo, is eight years old and is challenged every day by his wheelchair. That includes finding ways to play.
So on Saturday, she brought him to a Parasports demonstration at St. Gabriel’s school, hoping to show him there are no limitations to what he can do if given the chance.
“There are people with disabilities that may not be able to do all the things that somebody walking is able to do,” she said. “If they can just open up a little space… something that they can enjoy just as any two legged person, that would be great.”
The event was hosted by Wheelchair Sports Alberta to help bring awareness to the community. Throughout Saturday afternoon, people could experience how basketball, soccer and curling were played by people in wheelchairs.
Ryan Van Keulen, technical director of Wheelchair Sports Alberta, said there are a lot of opportunities available to bridge the gap, including improving accessibility infrastructure and social programs.
“Right now they don’t currently have any sport programming up here, so we want to create some programming, draw some interest,” said Van Keulen. “We’re using today to figure out what sports the community is interested in playing.”
Van Keulen notes that just because it is a Parasport, ablebodied people can also participate.
“It is a very inclusive way to get everyone in the community involved,” he said.
Over the years Olawuyi has seen challenges living in Fort Mcmurray. Like many other rural areas, wheelchair accessibility can be a bigger problem compared to cities.
However, she wishes there would be more inclusivity when planning things.
“If you go to Macisland, lets say, what are the options for him to do?” she said. “If you go to a hockey game and you’re on the risers, there’s actually no way to bring his wheelchair to the top, but if I was in somewhere like Toronto or even Calgary, there’s options there.”
Stephanie Myrick, regional program coordinator for Spinal Cord Injury Alberta, said there are currently at least 100 residents in the region in a wheelchair.
“Accessibility is an issue, especially in the winter – snow covered ramps, snow covered curb cuts coming from the street, doors not working when it gets too cold,” said Myrick. “Generally it’s lack of accessibility and lack of programs for them to take part in.”
Myrick said that to see improvement, renovated buildings need to adapt for accessibility, not just make sure they are up to code.
“It’s not going to be an easy fix, but people are working on it,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Olawuyi said people in Fort Mcmurray have been accommodating.
Ayo has been going to Timberlea Public School since he was three. Olawuyi said she keeps her son at that school because he feels accepted.
“I never want him sitting around feeling sorry for himself and when he’s at Timberlea Public School, he doesn’t have that opportunity to do that because he feels like one of the kids,” she said. “Even if it’s just one child. One child needs to feel included too, no matter what their disabilities are.”
Ryan Van Keulen, technical director of Wheelchair Sports Alberta, (right) teaches Ayo Olawuyi to curl at the Parasport demonstration at St. Gabriel’s in Fort Mcmurray, Alta on Dec. 1, 2018.