Nothing brings people together like sports. They allow us to feel the joy of victory, the pain of defeat and strive for something greater than ourselves. Deaf sports are growing fast in Australia, and to get an understanding of the deaf sports landscape, Echo spoke with Lauren Townsend from Deaf Sports Australia.
Echo: So Lauren, what kind of sporting programs are available to deaf people?
Lauren Townsend: At Deaf Sports Australia, we have two sporting programs – the Active Deaf Sports Club (ADSC) and the Active Deaf Kids Program.
We run an ADSC workshop (which runs for two hours) and provide Auslan lessons (which run for four hours), with signs catered to the specific sport. Coaches, staff and volunteers will have the opportunity to learn the best communication practises when working with deaf and hard of hearing participants.
State-specific Sports Development Officers usually run this program with other sporting organisations. They increase awareness and educate the deaf and hard of hearing kids on the health and social benefits of participating in sports.
This is where we will teach them pathways, like participating in Deaf championships and Deaflympics and so on.
We also have our Australian Deaf Games which is held every 4 years and includes over 14 sports. This event spread over 8 days enables the Deaf community and families to come together in one place to celebrate and play sport, enjoy cultural and social activities and catch up with friends and make new ones.
Each of our national deaf sport organisations (eg; Deaf Golf Australia) may have their annual championship events where the competition is between States and territories.
E: Do deaf people predominantly participate in deaf sports or do they play hearing sports too?
LT: Usually, these programs are aimed at deaf and hard of hearing individuals being mainstreamed in such sports, schools and organisations because some sports can be isolating in some states. In one state, you may have 5 deaf individuals playing golf together, but in another state, you may have 1 playing on their own. You may have one deaf student playing badminton but there is no deaf organisation available.
In this case, as far as programs go, we advise the deaf and hard of hearing individuals on the pathways currently available to them. We also advise the schools, organisations and clubs of the access and other supporting mechanisms that they can provide to their deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
E: What areas of deaf sports are currently growing fastest?
LT: Deaf Touch Football Australia is currently expanding its membership with steady growth, but the public eye is on cricket at this stage, due to increased awareness shown within Cricket Australia, and the awareness and Auslan training provided to them. Cricket Australia has shown immense interest in catering to deaf and hard of hearing cricketers.
Recently, a South Australian deaf male cricketer from the recent National Cricket Inclusion Championship (NCIC) has made headlines for becoming the first player to represent South Australia at both the NCIC and the National Indigenous Cricket Championships (NICC). It’s cool knowing deaf and hard of hearing individuals like this guy are exceeding far beyond their expectations in their sporting journeys.
It is examples like this that attract deaf people the most when they see how inclusive certain sports become.
E: How can organisations like DSA encourage greater participation in deaf sports?
LT: The Deaf community, at large, are united through shared sporting interests, social activities and means of sign language. Newcomers like deaf and hard of hearing students and children are introduced through our programs where we educate them on the pathways made available for them. They then can choose to challenge their own best abilities or to meet others like themselves.
Our Sports Development Officers are currently based in Queensland, NSW and Victoria and work with schools where there are deaf and hard of hearing students to offer sport development programs as well as make them aware of the sports pathways they can enjoy.
E: Are deaf sports generally appropriately resourced?
LT: Deaf sports organisations are usually prepared. They are organisations that have intentions to include their deaf participants in the best way possible. They understand their community by having a shared common knowledge of having faced barriers elsewhere.
For example – in a hearing event, deaf/hard of hearing swimmers would struggle with starting off. In a deaf national swimming competition like the previous Australian Deaf Games in Albury, they had a flashing light that went off at the same time as the gun.
In other sports, like on a grassy field, referees would carry a bright coloured handheld cloth or a flag. For most, they cannot hear the whistle.
In regards to funding, we have to find grants to help develop and provide for these programs which are not easy to achieve sometimes.
E: What kind of positive impact can deaf sports have on individuals and the community at large?
LT: Well, I know one thing for sure – several deaf individuals do find their future husband/wife through these deaf sporting events!
On a community level though, it has the potential to attract their national sporting organisation. These organisations and the deaf sports organisations would build upon their existing relationship, and when opportunities come, both organisations can share these opportunities and increase interest, publicity and awareness nationally and state-wide.
We do have some outstanding deaf and hard of hearing individuals who have gone on and achieved at elite levels, whether that be state, national or international in both mainstream and deaf sports events. Some have participated at the Olympics (fencing and athletics), Commonwealth Games (swimming and athletics) and we have many (including teams) who have achieved medal status at the Deaflympics or World Deaf championship events.
E: What is DSA’s role in supporting deaf sports?
LT: DSA’s objective is to encourage all deaf and hard of hearing people to have access to and participate in sports activities.
Deaf Sports Australia’s principal partner is with the Australian Government, under Sport Australia. Their supporting partners are with three state governments (NSW, QLD and VIC) and Destination NSW. They also have sports partners such as Athletics Australia, Basketball Australia, Cricket Australia and several others.
With a strong network such as these, other deaf sport organisations become members under DSA and will be easily recognised by their hearing peers. It becomes like a triangular network for each sport.
The athlete’s eligibility procedure is determined by a classification process done at Deaf Sports Australia. The classification coincides with the deaf community’s strong stance of fair play both a national and international level.
E: What avenues are available for elite deaf athletes to pursue a career in their sport?
LT: The following image should give you an idea. The opportunities are everywhere!
There are two types of pathways – deaf sports and mainstream pathways.
Should an elite athlete find an interest in a particular sport and want to increase their skills or pursue a career, this is where the Sports Development officer comes in. Athletes will be supported to consider taking up coaching and refereeing courses, gain qualifications or become professional athletes by seeking professional support from certain organisations on whatever level they’re at.
Donations to Deaf Sports Australia are accepted and can be tax-deductible if more than $2.