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Wheels of change: encouraging inclusion

More than 30 years after losing his leg, David Johnson has found a new way to pass on his love of tennis and commitment to inclusion.

In school playgrounds across northern NSW, students are having a go at wheelchair sports to increase their awareness and improve attitudes towards disability.

Run by Paralympian and Centaur Public School parent, David Johnson, Social Futures’ Sports Ability program teaches children how to play games and include everybody.

Mr Johnson, who won silver in the men’s tennis doubles event at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, lost his leg in a car accident.

“I don’t just impart pro tips for sports,” Mr Johnson said. “We also talk about disability, about my experiences and about the achievements of people with disability as well as some of the challenges.

“I encourage all the young people I talk to, to ask questions and to be curious – through asking questions comes understanding, and through understanding comes inclusion.

“Sports Ability is all about inclusion so maybe if these young people have a friend who has a disability, they can modify the game, or choose another to include everyone from the start,” he said.

A group of students in wheelchairs
Image:David Johnson, centre, and Cooper, front left, share some ‘wheel time’ with Centaur Public School students. Photo: NSW Department of Education. 

Inclusion is exactly what this program is achieving for Centaur Public School year 2 student Cooper Greig, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

“When we are doing the program, everyone is like me, and it makes me very happy,” Cooper communicated to his mum Emily, who thinks the program is “brilliant”.

“This program gives the students a small glimpse of what living with a disability may look and feel like, and just how different sports and everyday life is for people with additional needs,” Ms Greig said.

“I love that … Cooper’s peers get to experience the world through his eyes.

“Cooper was so excited to feel so included and involved. He enjoyed seeing his friends move around the way he does, whilst playing one of his favourite sports in the process.”

Centaur Public School principal Corrie Stephenson said the program had helped the school continue to build its awareness around inclusivity.

“The impact for all our students and our wider community has been very positive and well received,” Mr Stephenson said.

NSW Department of Education

This story was written by the NSW Department of Education. School News shares it with permission.

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