Ball sports are better on wheels … in Alstonville

Written byChristine Tondorf
Published on09 Aug, 2022
Photo By Bowen Lyons 3

Students at St Joseph’s Primary School, Alstonville, have had a chance to try wheelchair ball sports this week – thanks to a champion Paralympian who’s delivering an innovative school program that gives children insight into disability inclusion.

Australian Paralympian wheelchair tennis player and silver-medallist David Johnson is at the Northern Rivers primary school from Monday to Thursday.

He is employed by Social Futures – an NDIS Partner in the Community.

David has been delivering Sports Ability on the NSW North Coast for two years. He estimates that he has already worked with more than 5,000 students.

“Trying sport in a wheelchair gives students a whole new perspective around disability and inclusion and it’s also lots of fun to move at speed on wheels and direct a ball,” he said.

“I’d describe the Sports Ability program as a good hands-on learning experience for kids, it’s something they’ve never previously had the chance to do.

“Kids get really engaged, and I love it, and they want more time doing the sports. They’re really open to the idea – and they get comfortable around people with disabilities. I make it fun and we talk lots about accessibility and inclusion for people with all types of disabilities.”

David lost a leg in a car accident when he was a teenager and went on to represent Australia in the men’s open singles and doubles wheelchair tennis in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

David said that before students get into the wheelchair, he talks to them about their understanding of disability, inclusion and the benefits  for people with a disability when they  enjoy and play sport.

“I break it down for them and show them how they can play their part in building an accessible and inclusive community that welcomes everyone,” he said.

“This year I have 65 days of school visits booked, meaning I will see hundreds of school children, and they will all have the chance to enjoy wheelchair sports.

“I cover basic wheelchair skills, and also go over different types of wheelchairs then I begin with basic stuff, like moving in a straight line. Next we move to manoeuvring around cones, and I remind the students that people in wheelchairs have to learn how to avoid people’s feet or dogs – you can’t run them over!

“Then I throw a ball into the mix, so we begin with basketball, and they have to learn how to bounce the ball and move. Older students are also given tennis rackets, meaning they have to simultaneously have to control a wheel, direct a ball and wield a racket – no easy feat.”

The students and teachers provide feedback after the program and a teacher recently commented: “I liked that a couple of the students happily spoke about their disabilities during the session. Afterwards, students and staff discussed access issues to the bathrooms in our school which we hadn’t observed before. At lunchtime afterwards, I noticed the school yard conversation was all about disability and wheelchairs, also identifying barriers in school grounds.”

Any school in the Northern Rivers and North Coast areas of NSW interested in hosting the Sports Ability program can call Social Futures on 1800 522 679  or email [email protected]

PHOTO: David Johnson with the students of St Josephs Primary School, Alstonville.