By Stuart Miller-Davis
While the Abilities Centre Ottawa’s (ACO) plan to build a facility has been left in limbo following the collapse of the $4-billion RendezVous LeBreton project, the organization is still looking for a site to call home.
“We are still moving forward in the hopes of building a building,” Emily Glossop, the ACO’s executive director, told the Sports Pages in a recent phone interview.
Ottawa’s Abilities Centre was inspired by the 125,000-square foot Abilities Centre in Whitby, which was built in 2012. The Whitby site is designed specifically to be inclusive and includes parasport-specific equipment, a sensory room, and a range of high-performance facilities built to be accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
Before the old LeBreton plan fell apart, Ottawa’s version was supposed to be built in Phase 1 of the development. It was planned to feature a range of fully accessible amenities just like the Whitby location.
“We’re not totally certain where that’s going to be at the moment, but, in the meantime, we’re still looking at programming and serving the community in other ways before we have walls,” Glossop said.
Adapting to COVID-19
In a non-pandemic world, the ACO would be running parasport education programs in local schools. Instead, like most sports organizations, it’s had to move its work online.
With the help of the Canadian Tire Jumpstart’s parasport-specific pandemic relief fund, a partnership with Whitby’s centre, and support from local businesses and athletes, ACO offered three weeks of free virtual programming near the end of last year.
Programming focussed on dance, yoga and meditation and fitness. It was delivered via pre-recorded videos that featured Canadian Paralympians and Special Olympians. All participants needed to take part was the amount of space that someone would usually occupy at a desk, Glossop said.
Over 3,000 people in Ontario participated.
Parasport Return to Play
The ACO has also been heavily involved with the Ottawa Sport Council’s “Return to Play Roadmap,” which was created to help sports organizations, teams and athletes safely return to sport amid the pandemic. ACO has taken on an increased role with one of the council’s subcommittee’s dedicated to assisting organizations that support athletes with disabilities.
“When we developed the Return to Play Roadmap, there were specific challenges that an athlete with a disability would face,” Ottawa Sport Council’s executive director Marci Morris told the Sports Pages.
“Emily (Glossop) took the step back and said, ‘you know, we need to add specific resources to each stock on the roadmap that actually are specifically for athletes with a disability.’”
One example of a parasport-specific challenge that Morris pointed to was Ottawa Public Health’s request that athletes show up to arenas dressed for their sport. This isn’t possible for some athletes with disabilities, meaning that Morris, the Sport Council and Ottawa Public Health had to discuss alternative practices for athletes with a disability.
Glossop said the ACO’s main goal in participating in the return-to-play consultation process was to increase inclusion and accessibility in all community activities.
“It’s supporting the organizations, because for us, our goal is inclusion,” Glossop said. “There’s a significant understanding that COVID has hit everybody quite hard and our organizations that run grassroots programming, are, in a lot of cases, run and facilitated by volunteers, and so there’s this need for organizations to band together as a collective and support each other as we move forward.”
Morris said the Sport Council plans to roll out specific return-to-play guidance for athletes with a disability in the near future.
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