Wheelchair Athletes Fit in Community Sports

Wheelchair Athletes Fit in Community Sports

Conference looks at inclusive sports with the parks and recreation leaders in mind.

Sports for people with disabilities are alive and well, but certain entities could embrace the connection more. For those who use a wheelchair, current sporting activities just need to be inclusive so everybody can participate.

That’s the message that was discussed at the ADAcon Pre-Conference event held recently at the St. James Sports, Wellness and Entertaining Complex in Springfield.

For Ann Deschamps, the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center Director, the question is:  “How can we include the people with disabilities?” Deschamps is a Reston resident that was at the conference to explore the issue alongside of the Parks and Recreation representatives from around the country, including reps from Reston and Herndon and Fairfax County. It’s not about new programs, but about including everyone in existing programs, Deschamps said. “There’s so much to learn, learn what is possible,” she said.

Spencer Davis was in the gym shooting baskets from his wheelchair. He started participating in junior tennis, not knowing if he could do it all, but that first step when he joined a team has opened the door to other sports he participates in. “I feel it really helps me with multiple sports, I also play basketball at my community in Maryland,” he said.

It turns out there are many things everyone can do together, and that was a big point at the conference. Try one sport, and it opens the door to other things that can be done with a wheelchair. Larry Toler also plays tennis, but he started playing wheelchair basketball at age 17. He might try skiing soon. “I have a disability, but now I have an ability,” he said.

Ray Petty is a technical assistance coordinator with the Great Plains ADA Center in the midwest. He worked with the Kansas City Royals baseball team and now is part of their wheelchair softball team. Taking part in that opened doors for him. Now he plays pickleball too.

“It’s a life changing thing,” he said.

Speakers and Sports

The main ADA conference was in the nearby Hilton, but the event at St. James was a pre-conference gathering where they could have room, speakers and sports. The St. James welcomed the group. They had the space and the sports attitude that conveyed to all. There were smiles and high fives everywhere.

Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt was the keynote speaker and she is a two-time Paralympian and disability activist. She won her medals in wheelchair racing, and in 2020, the American Psychological Association awarded her the Citizen Psychologist Award for Advancing Disability as a Human Rights and Social Justice Issue.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy was there as well and promoted hiking with the wheelchair. There are area trails that are suited for this, and that includes the W&OD Trail, Holmes Run in Alexandria and the Mount Vernon Trail along the river.