McMaster’s Department of Athletics and Recreation is making strides towards accessible programming

McMaster’s Department of Athletics and Recreation oversees gym memberships, personal training, intramurals, programming (such as first aid, backpacking and dance classes) and court and facility bookings. They even offer backpacking and canoe trips. Students may seek these services with the hope of continuing to play sports after high school, or with the goal of investing in their physical health for the first time.

Disabled students face obstacles in remaining physically active in university. They must verify that a facility is accessible; ideally, they would be able to use machines and be able to do so independently.

“Some of us may need to find out where the accessible entrance is in advance … Some of us are never able to access athletic facilities if there is no accessible or all-gender washrooms … Some people may need [instructions for gym equipment] explained verbally, in plain language, or in a different way, but there is not always staff around that can do this for us,” Calvin Prowse, a past Maccess executive explained.

“Some of us may need to find out where the accessible entrance is in advance … Some of us are never able to access athletic facilities if there is no accessible or all-gender washrooms … Some people may need [instructions for gym equipment] explained verbally, in plain language, or in a different way, but there is not always staff around that can do this for us,” Calvin Prowse, a past Maccess executive explained.

Wayne Terryberry, the outdoor recreation coordinator for McMaster Athletics and Recreation, said that his team aimed to make services as accessible as possible.

It may be difficult to understand how a building or a certain activity could be made more accessible without the lived experience of a disability. The athletics and recreation department has made positive strides in this regard, such as through the Alpine Tower.

“We chose to purchase [the Alpine Tower] 15 years ago or so. It was purchased primarily for the reason that it’s accessible,” Terryberry said. “We’ve provided accessible climbing with different equipment and mechanism such as ropes and harnesses, plus the [climbing wall] is [accessible] as well.”

In addition to the Alpine Tower, McMaster Athletics and Recreation also offers a Hippocampe all-terrain wheelchair for use on trails. This wheelchair allows users to independently navigate hiking trails off campus. In addition, the department is in the process of creating a wheelchair-accessible trail in McMaster Forest, located in Dundas Valley. The trail will be approximately 750 metres long and will be located around the front of the forest.

If anyone is interested in getting involved with outdoor recreation, but is hesitant about whether they have the ability to do a certain activity, Terryberry would be able to help. Activities such as accessible canoeing have been done before, and Terryberry claims that there are discussions being held on buying more adaptable equipment for outdoor recreation.

In terms of indoor recreation, the Special Needs Assistance Program provides a one-on-one opportunity for individuals to work with a trained volunteer to help accommodate their needs. Debbie Marinoff Shupe, the manager of recreation services, emphasized the value of such programs for members with both physical and mental disabilities.

In terms of indoor recreation, the Special Needs Assistance Program provides a one-on-one opportunity for individuals to work with a trained volunteer to help accommodate their needs. Debbie Marinoff Shupe, the manager of recreation services, emphasized the value of such programs for members with both physical and mental disabilities.

“So it could be somebody who feels really anxious in the facility due to a mental health issue and we would connect them to a volunteer,” Shupe explains. “Could be somebody with hearing or seeing disabilities, and we’ll connect [them] to a volunteer so that they can participate in activities in the Pulse.”

If working out in the Pulse isn’t your cup of tea, there are also intramural teams. Intramural programs are adaptable; in the past, ice hockey was adapted to a combination of ice hockey and sled hockey to accommodate the use of a sled. There are also wheelchair basketball and wheelchair European handball tournaments in the fall semester, and parasport as well as unified basketball tournaments in the winter semester.

Of course, disabilities are not limited to physical ones. Mental disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to making athletics accessible, but Terryberry and Shupe assure that there are many programs for those with mental illnesses.

The Nature at McMaster program provides opportunities to go out on a walk, hike, or practice mindfulness — McMaster Athletics and Recreation worked very closely with Student Accessibility Services to help provide this program. The program hopes to encourage going out in nature to help promote good mental health. More information can be found on their website.

Shupe also acknowledged that a lot of the David Braley Athletic Centre is currently inaccessible and that they have plans to improve that in the near future. With the expansion of DBAC, the department hopes to purchase more equipment specific for wheelchair users and to remove other structural issues with the building.

“If you want to get to the second floor of the Pulse right now if you’re using a wheelchair, you’d have to leave the Pulse, take the elevator that’s on the other side and go up and then [back into the Pulse]. So you can get to it but it’s not very easy,” Shupe said. “[In the renovation] the actual elevator and bathrooms would be in the Pulse you wouldn’t have to actually leave the Pulse.”

Signage is also something they’re working on. New signage packages were created for the expansion of DBAC and for the Student Activity Building to improve accessibility for those who need braille to read.

Anybody interested in offering feedback for any programs or starting an accessible program through the athletics and recreation department can contact Shupe at marinof@mcmaster.ca.

“We’re always open to new ideas for sure,” Shupe said. “If folks have any kind of sport interest in terms of making it more accessible or accommodating, it’s me that you contact and then depending on what the program is, we will work with the individual forwards.”

Anyone interested in checking out any athletics and recreation programs or activities or learning more about accessibility in the department can check out the app McMaster Recreation. Getting involved in athletics may seem like an impossible feat when you’re disabled, but there are a lot of opportunities to get active.

Image courtesy of Graphic by Silhouette Production

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