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Central Sport looking at ways to broaden inclusion and accessibility for Red Deer sport programs

Survey results indicate transportation, discrimination and lack of disability supports are concerns
Central Sport has offered wheelchair lacrosse in Red Deer, and will be looking at growing programs to broaden inclusion and accessibility for under-represented kids. (Black Press file photo)

Supportive coaching in a safe and encouraging environment is what many under-represented children need to get into sports, a Central Sport survey on inclusivity found.

Validation, respect and equitable treatment were other key themes expressed in the survey taken last fall by 101 respondents whose children, from age six to 12, were challenged to participate in local sports.

The survey, which was offered both online and through in-person questionnaires, was aimed at Indigenous families, as well as families with disabled children, non-English speaking or new Canadians, and low-income families.

Consultant Brandi Heather was hired by Central Sport to work collaboratively with agencies, such as Care for Newcomers and Urban Aboriginal Voices, to reach parents whose children were not participating in sports.

Heather said the goal was discovering where gaps exist in programming in Red Deer and figuring out how to bridge them for families and children who were not feeling welcome or included.

Central Sport was formed as a legacy of Red Deer’s 2019 Canada Winter Games, and mandated to develop sports at all levels, including at the grassroots level.

“Our purpose is to provide pillars and support,” so ensuring there’s inclusivity and accessibility for anyone wanting to participate is key, said Al Ferchuk, chair of the non-profit Central Sport board.

He emphasized the established connection between physical health and emotional well-being, as well as the sense of belonging that sports can provide to children from diverse backgrounds.

The survey completed by 101 respondents underlined the importance of equitable coaching and allowing parents to stay and offer support. It also found kids were more likely to participate if some individual help was available when needed, if their friends could attend, and if there was some adaptability for different ways of participating.

Transportation was found to be a major barrier for some families as busing was not always practical, depending on distance to the sports venue, said Heather. Other challenges were a lack of knowledge about cultural diversity and disability inclusion, and problems communicating with kids who do not speak English. Past experiences with discrimination and exclusion were also barriers.

Heather found many families facing overlapping challenges, since over half of respondents who identified their children as having a disability also identified as being Indigenous or Metis.

As a next step, she noted Central Sport will consider how to offer more accessible sports in the city, such as wheelchair lacrosse. The group will also be talking to school divisions about opportunities to have more extracurricular sports offered by various groups at schools to try to bridge the transportation gap.

Ferchuk said Central Sport is aiming to create more community connections between sports groups, agencies and schools.

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