By Jeff Tiessen, Executive Director, ParaSport Ontario

Disability knows no prejudice. It does not discriminate by demographic… by race, religion, socio-economic status or gender. It does however, categorize by ability and appearance, not only within our general society but even within the disability community itself. Preconceived notions of inability and misguided attitudes are monumental barriers to inclusion of persons with a disability. Historically, these systemic predispositions constructed the battleground for equitable opportunities led by community advocates and disenfranchised individuals themselves.

The generalization of the “disability community” is a broad-brush delineation of Ontario’s largest and most indiscriminate minority, often painting a picture of limitations and debility. But in fact, our community of individuals with disabilities is a canvas of fine-strokes, a compilation of countless physical and intellectual distinctions and diversities, and abilities.

For 40 years, ParaSport® Ontario has promoted and provided inclusive and adapted sport opportunities for people with disabilities. Our core values encompass the importance of diversity and inclusion of all people. We recognize, and are learning more about, how systemic racism impacts persons with disabilities in complex ways. It is our mission to ensure that there are parasport opportunities available to participants and athletes with disabilities in all cultural communities and of all ability levels… and that a welcoming and quality first-introduction experience is provided to attain and sustain the participation of such a diverse population.

We also recognize the importance of equitable representation of women and persons of colour, particularly those with a disability, in our workplace, and on our teams of Ambassadors and Advisors and Board of Directors… and importantly too, in our depiction of those we serve in our media assets, editorial content and awareness materials. For us of course, this extends to the challenge of representing various disabilities in a variety of physical activities. With a lens on the implications of stereotypically defaulting to the super athlete – the Paralympian – commonly showcased in mainstream media, it is our responsibility as leaders in the disability community to emphasize that there is a sport or physical activity for everyBODY!

Standard semantics within the disability community call for “person first” language. That is, not “the disabled” but rather “someone with a disability” or “person with a disability.” It is a theoretical concept intended to emphasize the importance of identifying a person for who they are, and not by their physical circumstance. In practice, it’s more about attitude or mind-set and when that is intrinsically established, relationships are strengthened and inclusion and participation are optimized. And when it evolves from ritual to routine, it transcends all differences, and embraces diversity in any of its many forms. Good in theory and even better in practice.

ParaSport® Ontario supports all members of the disability community in finding their sport or activity of choice. There is a sport for everyBODY!” For more information on ParaSport Ontario, or for inclusion resources, visit www.parasportontario.ca or email jeff@parasportontario.ca.