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New study to address para-athlete needs

Agnes Wessalowski of Germany competes in long jumping at the Special Olympics World Games
Photo: Dreamstime

New research led by Western University suggests a continued lack of understanding and knowledge about disability-specific issues in parasports.

Volunteers and event organizers in parasport events or sport clubs that train people with disabilities are often unprepared to address para-athlete needs, or even accessibility issues, according to Laura Misener, faculty member of Western’s International Centre for Olympic Studies and director of the department of kinesiology, who is leading the collaborative study

“This lack of knowledge can lead to inequitable and frankly, unsafe sporting experiences,” said Misener.

Misener, and two Western students, are collaborating with Amy Latimer-Cheung from Queen’s University and her team on a multi-year research to build a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for Canadian parasport athletes at all skill levels. The project, set to be completed in 2022, is funded by national innovation organization Mitacs.

“Western’s role is primarily leading on the governance and management aspects of understanding how to create better, safer, sport opportunities for all,” said Misener.

Megan Kablefleisch, a kinesiology graduate student and Mitacs-funded intern, and Avery O’Neill, an undergraduate student research intern from the School of Kinesiology, are working specifically on developing a volunteer training framework for parasport events.

To better understand the landscape of para-event volunteering, Kablefleisch and O’Neill are interviewing para-athletes, volunteers and sport organizations to examine ways to ensure that events address the specific needs of para-athletes and address disability rights in training. With Misener, the research interns will also create best practices guidelines for organizations when engaging sport volunteers with disabilities.

“The Paralympic Games showcases some of the many sports that are available for persons with disabilities, but sport organizations need to be ready with appropriate resources to support the needs of all potential sport participants,” said Misener.

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