Accessibility, inclusion, innovation, and equity are more than words for Abilities Centre, they are at the heart of every program and service that they create and implement.
A signature initiatives, Mixed Ability Sport, is a key example of how Abilities Centre is supporting inclusivity and breaking down systemic barriers that prevent full and meaningful participation in the communities in which we all live, work, and play.
In Canada, the sport sector has made it a priority to ensure people have opportunities for positive sport participation throughout their lifespan. However, many people consistently face barriers to accessing mainstream sport. People’s opportunities and choices about where and how they participate are impacted by their age, disability, and gender, among other things. A research partnership between Abilities Centre and the University of British Columbia examined the experiences of persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Disability Survey highlighted that during the pandemic, access to recreation and leisure was one of the largest unmet needs among persons with disabilities (Gee et al., 2022). There is an opportunity to radically transform the way sport and recreation are delivered in Canada and break down barriers to participation, through Mixed Ability Sport.
The Mixed Ability Sport model is about creating inclusive spaces that respects and value the diverse backgrounds and intersecting identities that make up the fabric of our communities. The Mixed Ability Sport model was introduced to Canada in 2020 through a partnership between Abilities Centre and International Mixed Ability Sports (IMAS). IMAS, based in the UK, is at the forefront of this global movement challenging the orthodoxy of grassroots sport participation.
Since its introduction, Mixed Ability Sport has been making changes in sport participation at the grassroots level across Canada; redefining the way we think of, join in, and participate in sport. With this model, sport is a vehicle to drive social change, not only impacting lives on the field of play but our educational, workplace, and social environments as well.
Mixed Ability does not mean mixed “disabilities”. By aiming to universally design sport environments, Mixed Ability Sport promotes full inclusion not only for individuals with disabilities, but also for those returning to sport, those who are new to sport, and any member of our communities. All individuals are equal, valued members of the club and regularly engaging team practices, competitions, and social engagement.
Interested in getting involved?
Abilities Centre offers a Mixed Ability Sport Coach Certification that is co-developed and co-facilitated with individuals with lived experience. This certification gives coaches the tools to foster an environment that is safe, supportive, accessible, and welcoming for all. The training takes a person-centred approach to breaking down barriers and enhancing existing program and team offerings. After completing the coach certification, coaches (and their clubs) have continued support from Abilities Centre for recruitment, research and impact, competition models, and storytelling.
Abilities Centre also works to make systemic change that supports a more inclusive society by partnering with sport governing bodies to update policies, procedures, and infrastructure. Sport governing bodies can partner with Abilities Centre to access training for staff and board members, marketing materials, and ongoing collaborative supports (e.g., classification information, competition structure, and officiating). Currently, there are provincial and national Mixed Ability Sport partnerships in Floor Curling, Rugby, and Ringette. Other sports are currently being driven by local champions at the club level, including Archery, Boxing, Artistic Swimming, lacrosse, and Pickleball.
National Mixed Ability Sport Week April 23–29, 2023
National Mixed Ability Sport Week will highlight the incredible work being done by Mixed Ability Sport clubs across Canada and help educate the community on the sport opportunities available around them. Throughout the week, local Mixed Ability Sport coaches and teams will share their stories and lead Mixed Ability Sport competitions and try-it sessions for community members to learn more about and participate in Mixed Ability Sport.
By Mikaeli Cavell and Kelly Kasper
For more information on Mixed Ability Sport or National Mixed Ability Sport Week, check out @mixedabilitysportcanada on Instagram for updates or email Mixedabilitysport@abilitiescentre.org