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Monday, December 16, 2013

No barriers bonspiel: Accessible curling

In Ontario, curling is a favourite winter pastime for many. But for people with disabilities, it might not seem a likely activity choice. Organizations such as Breaking Down Barriers are changing that.
Breaking Down Barriers is a not-for-profit organization in Collingwood, Ontario that helps people with disabilities live independently and participate in the community. Each year, the organization hosts a large curling bonspiel that invites mixed teams of people with disabilities and able-bodied people to curl together.

“What’s really cool about this event is that you’re seeing integrated curling,” explains Andrea Abbott-Kokosin, Executive Director of Breaking Down Barriers. “So you’re seeing able-bodied curlers, curlers in wheelchairs, curlers with visual impairments, curlers with developmental disabilities. People of all abilities are out there having a blast together.”

The event aims to raise awareness about the many abilities of people with disabilities, and to increase inclusion by eliminating barriers so that everyone can interact and have fun together.

Andrea says that while Breaking Down Barriers makes the bonspiel possible by hosting the event, the level of accessibility at the Collingwood Curling Club is what makes it viable in the first place. The curling club recently underwent renovations to become more accessible to people with disabilities. Additions included automatic doors, ramps, an elevator and accessible washrooms, so that everyone can get into and around the building with ease.

There are also several curling-specific accommodations made available at the bonspiel, including guide partners for people with vision loss, ice stabilizers for people with mobility issues, and large curling sticks for those in wheelchairs.

Mary Weldon, a curler with hearing and vision loss, was able to participate in the event with help from a guide who instructs her on which way to push the rock. Mary says the social benefits of an event like this for people with disabilities are tremendous.

“It’s a chance to get out and be with the people that are your peers,” she explains. “It’s a great thing to do because we’re not segregated — we do everything that everyone else does.”

Peter Schlegel of the Collingwood Curling Club Board of Directors says that’s exactly what the club was trying to achieve with their renovations — to make sure that everyone, regardless of their ability, had the opportunity to get out and curl. And right in line with that message is the bonspiel and the awareness it brings of the many abilities of people with disabilities.

“It really shows how anybody with any kind of disability can be involved in this game,” explains Peter. “They need the opportunity, and the rest they take care of.”

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