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Inclusion Now: In the game

Melissa Day says she dreamed of playing sledge hockey since she was a little girl. Now, she plays sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball through Easter Seals.
Melissa Day says she dreamed of playing sledge hockey since she was a little girl. Now, she plays sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball through Easter Seals.

If it wasn’t for Easter Seals NL, Melissa Day says she wouldn’t have much of a social life.

Inclusion Now

But the organization’s sports and recreation programs have introduced her to a lot of people — and have given her a chance to fulfil a lifelong wish.

“I’ve wanted to play sledge hockey since I was a little girl. I always wanted to try it, and I never had the chance. And then I moved here, and I got the chance,” said Day, who also plays wheelchair basketball.



Originally from Bloomfield, Bonavista Bay, Day has moved around a lot with her military family. When she moved to St. John’s a few years ago from Ontario, she said, she was “baffled” with the lack of accessibility here, but glad to see Easter Seals’ presence in the community.

Now, she said, every recreational activity she takes part in is organized by Easter Seals. Without them, she doesn’t think she’d know where to start to get involved.

Wheelchair basketball is on two nights a week from October to May at Easter Seals House in St. John’s: there’s a recreational game Tuesday nights, and a more competitive game on Wednesdays.

Evan Mullins normally plays on Tuesday nights. He says he’s gotten better since he started and plans to play again next year. Asked what he likes about basketball, he said “shooting, passing, and my friends.” Off the court, he also enjoys a game of darts and bowling.

A few weeks ago, during the last game of the season, the Tuesday night and Wednesday night crowds joined each other on the court. Mullins had a pretty great game; he got the last basket of the night, and people on both teams cheered.

“I didn’t know I was going to get that shot,” he told The Telegram later, smiling.


Other sports

Basketball is just one of the popular sports programs offered by Easter Seals in St. John’s. Sledge hockey, swimming, wall climbing and boccia are also a hit. In the summertime, a few camp options are available, including day camps, overnight camps, family camp and adult camp.

Eileen Bartlett, director of programming, said Easter Seals is proud to have introduced Liam Hickey and Danielle Arbour to wheelchair basketball; both now play with national teams. But the program caters to players of all levels. Arbour and Hickey still come along to shoot hoops with the Easter Seals crowd.

“They just love being on the court with Liam and Danielle. They’re great young people and share that skill and experience with them,” Bartlett said.

Some of the programs wouldn’t work outside of Easter Seals House, so the organization has built partnerships with facilities that fit their needs. Sledge hockey takes place at the Paradise Double Ice Complex, for example, and swimming takes place at the Ches Penney YMCA.

From October to May, wheelchair basketball takes place two nights a week at Easter Seals House. Tuesday nights are recreational games, and Wednesday nights are for more competitive players.


Volunteers are key

Volunteers are crucial to the delivery of these programs. Bartlett said 10 to 15 volunteers come and go throughout the season.

“Volunteers are what makes the wheels move,” Bartlett said. “Without the volunteers, we just wouldn’t have an opportunity to deliver the program. … They’re loyal. Every week, they help set up, they run the drills. Their companionship, their encouragement to the athletes — they’re a great part of the program.”

Tamara Belben of L’Anse au Loup is studying to become a physiotherapist at MUN. As part of her program, she volunteered at Easter Seals during wheelchair basketball. Once she got her credit, she decided to stay on.

Tamara Belben of L’Anse au Loup is one of those volunteers. When she moved to St. John’s to study kinesiology at MUN, she was keen to get out and volunteer. As it happened, her professor, David Yi, makes volunteering a part of the curriculum. Through the class, she started helping out at wheelchair basketball in January, and kept going after earning her credits.

“I know their names, and I knew that a couple of them were graduating. And they were excited about their dates.

“When you come in, not just are you helping them with their basketball, but you’re also talking to them. And I missed them when I was having to work,” she said.

Belben, who hopes to become a physiotherapist, said Easter Seals House is definitely one of the more accessible places she’s been to in St. John’s. Since studying under Yi, who puts a lot of emphasis on inclusion and accessibility, she’s been paying attention to how inaccessible many buildings in the capital city are, including at Memorial University.


MUN and student volunteers

Yi’s students learn about adapted physical activity in the classroom, on the court, in the pool — all types of settings for recreation.

“The first two to three weeks I talk about meanings of disability, diversity, awareness, those kind of theoretical parts,” he said.

Then he sends his students out into the community to volunteer with groups like Easter Seals and Special Olympics NL.

“Because we live in Newfoundland, we have a lack of human resources,” he said. “Students should do the good work, and they’re learning the real-world experience, but at the same time they are the resources for the community. For example, Special Olympics, they could do two more programs because of my students.”

Coaches for six different parasports — track and field, TrailRiders, wheelchair curling, visually impaired curling, boccia and blind soccer — also visit the class as part of the course to give the students some exposure.

Yi said Newfoundland and Labrador does pretty well when it comes to supporting parasports. He mentions swimmer Katarina Roxon, a Paralympic gold medallist, and says he keeps inviting Liam Hickey to come to class, but he’s always busy.

“Parasports are strong, always, and Special Olympics are strong. They have a strong community. But I would say general day-to-day physical activity experiences, that’s lacking. Not sports-specific, but for example, outdoor activity,” he said, adding there are a lot of inaccessible trails and parks.



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MUN prof suggests transitioning centre

MUN professor David Yi hopes to launch a transition centre where people experiencing disabilities can learn about what recreational activities are available to them in their communities.

Dr. David Yi has been working with people experiencing disabilities, newcomers and Indigenous people on the subject of inclusivity.

The Memorial University professor is documenting their experiences in the community and looking for their solutions to common barriers such as a lack of resources, built environments and transportation.

“It’s also the sociocultural aspect of it. For example, lack of awareness, lack of advocacy, lack of readiness. And also their own readiness, individual readiness. Many participants highlighted that they’re not ready to do something because they don’t want to experience those negative things again,” he said.

Yi has been working on a project that could help improve things — a proposed transitioning centre, one that would help people learn about different opportunities in sports and recreation, and help create opportunities where they don’t already exist.

“My client wants to go to the Max (recreation centre), for example. The transitioning co-ordinator could go there and work with their staff, and try to think about different (person-specific) ways of modifying equipment and ways of getting in,” he said.

He also envisions people who have completed rehab in a medical setting — for example, those who have experienced spinal cord injury during an accident — being referred there.

Representatives from other bodies, such as the City of St. John’s, would also be connected to the centre.

“My ideal world, everyone should have the right to be active within where they live. I want that. I want to go to the playground right next to my door so my kids can go and play. But if that’s not accessible, we have to go to Bannerman Park,” he said.

The transitioning centre would bring such concerns to the city.

“They’re very good at it. Once they know the needs, they try to fix it — the city and the government. They just don’t know when there’s lack of communication.”


Boccia waiting for?

You can play boccia anywhere. All you need is masking tape, balls and a floor.

To play the inclusive game, participants toss a jack, or target ball, then toss balls as close to the target as possible.

“Boccia levels the playing field, as all competitors must sit in their chair in a designated box. Played with leather balls on a gymnasium court, this sport is perhaps best described as a cross between lawn bowling and curling,” is how Easter Seals describes it.

The game is played at all levels, and is a Paralympic sport. Newfoundland and Labrador has a provincial team that competes nationally, and one Newfoundlander — Michael Mercer of Grand Falls-Windsor — plays on the national team.

Easter Seals House in St. John’s hosts an 18+ boccia program on Thursdays at 7 p.m. There are also programs in Colliers, Gander, and Corner Brook.

Easter Seals NL program director Eileen Bartlett said she often travels to other communities to introduce boccia.

If you’d like to learn how to set up boccia in your community, contact Bartlett at



New accessible park will be a ground-breaking facility

Easter Seals NL ambassador Nathan Chaulk poses at the ground-breaking ceremony for a new accessible, inclusive park at Husky Energy Easter Seals House in St. John’s.

A ground-breaking ceremony in June built some excitement for a fully accessible park being built behind Husky Energy Easter Seals House in St. John’s.

Phase 1 of the project is the creation of a playground, which will have a swingset that includes swings meeting different abilities, an accessible play structure, a raised sand box and a team totter. The playground is expected to be ready for play this fall.

Later phases will see a barbecue event plaza, and outdoor court/rink, a sensory garden, an amphitheatre, an area for grass play and an archery area.

Eileen Bartlett of Easter Seals NL said the project is a dream come true.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this. It's going to be the most inclusive, accessible site east of Montreal. It will be a place for families and friends — everybody of all ages and all abilities can play together,” she said.

The budget is $1 million, which Bartlett said is being met through ongoing corporate sponsorship.  



Accessibility features of the Paul Reynolds Community Centre

Many in the St. John’s area are touting the accessibility features of the brand new Paul Reynolds Community Centre at Wedgewood Park.

After touring the building, Julie Brocklehurst wrote on her blog, Tiptoeing Through..., about some of the features. Among them: accessible parking, elevator access to the second floor, accessible counter heights at the front desk, an accessible change room.

The accessible change room was one of the most significant features for Brocklehurst, who hasn’t been able to take her son, Brennen, swimming in a long time.

“I got a little emotional at this part of the tour, just thinking about how something like this can have a profound effect on the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. This change room means that families like mine will now be able to swim together, to have fun together, and to be fully included in recreational activities just like everybody else. It means that my son, and other individuals with disabilities can participate in activities with a sense of belonging in a community that welcomes and supports all of its members,” she wrote.

The pool also features a Poolpod to help people access the water.

Read Brocklehurst’s post about the community centre here:

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