Inclusive Newcastle: working hard to offer sports opportunities for disabled students

Since its official launch last year, the Union’s Inclusive Newcastle program has been relentless in its efforts towards providing a wide range of sporting services for disabled students at Newcastle University. The program includes a qualified support team, student volunteers and the delivery of para-sports.

Despite being a relatively new scheme, Inclusive Newcastle has already been recognised for its hard work. In November last year the Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU) was officially announced as an associate member of the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS). Last week Inclusive Newcastle had the chance to showcase some of its work as part of NUSU’s Disability Awareness Week.

“we’re working hard on making our services, in particular our sporting activities, far more accessible for those with disabilities”

Inclusive Newcastle’s prides itself on offering its services to students of all abilities.  Liam Isaac, Inclusive Newcatle’s Coordinator, said: “we’re working hard on making our services, in particular our sporting activities, far more accessible for those with disabilities.”

One of the programs main messages is to make people aware that not all disabilities are visible. As Isaac explains, “less than 8 per cent of disabled people use wheelchairs. We want to educate all students that, regardless of disability, students can access many opportunities at NUSU and get involved.”

Inclusive Newcastle aims to remove any barriers which disabled students may face within sport. One student described how Inclusive Newcastle has given them the confidence to attend sports. “I often don’t feel able to go to activities as it is difficult for me to explain to the activity leader that I have a hearing impairment. I have definitely gone to things that I wouldn’t have done if Liam hadn’t sorted things out.”

The student explained how Inclusive Newcastle offers a simple, but vital helping hand. “Inclusive Newcastle has supported me my arranging a mentor at a climbing activity and by speaking to group leaders about what they can do to minimise me missing out due to my hearing impairment.”

Inclusive Newcastle’s Liam Isaac (left) jokes with AU Officer Gus Taylor  Image: Mark Sleightholm

Inclusive Newcastle’s Liam Isaac (left) jokes with AU Officer Gus Taylor
Image: Mark Sleightholm

“The adjustments people need to make aren’t difficult but if they haven’t been told what they are people often think they need to shout loudly. It has been greatly re-assuring attending things knowing that Liam has been in touch with them.”

As well as providing a crucial support network for those who need assistance of reassurance, Inclusive Newcastle also works to deliver a number of para-sports. In October the program delivered its first on-campus para-sport, Polybat. The sport is an adapted form of Table Tennis with a lower table and no net and is available to players of all abilities.

Inclusive Newcastle also works closely with clubs and organisations in the local community. The program provides transport to the Percy Hedley Sports Academy, who offer a number of para-sports such as Wheelchair Basketball, Boccia, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Handball, Powerchair football and Wheelchair Rugby.

Newcastle Student Lee Armstrong has played Powerchair Football at Percy Hedley for over five years and currently competes in the National Premiership League. However, as Armstrong explains, Percy Hedley offers something for everyone: “The academy has sessions in different sports for players at all different levels, with varying disabilities.”

“Newcastle Student Lee Armstrong has played Powerchair Football at Percy Hedley for over five years and currently competes in the National Premiership League”

“One thing I particularly enjoy about the academy is the social side of the sports and the friends I’ve made while playing there,” says Armstrong. “I also like the fact that I’m never patronised or held back and can be fully competitive.”

Armstrong was keen to encourage other disabled students keen to play sport to use the Inclusive Newcastle service. “I would tell anyone was unsure about starting a club with Inclusive Newcastle or Percy Hedley to at least go to the first session. See what it’s like before you write it off as it could have a very positive effect on your life.”

Editors play para-sports for Disability Awareness Week

As part of Disability Awareness Week, which took place on campus last week, The Courier’s Alex Hendley, Mark Sleightholm and Calum Wilson tried their hand at a variety of para-sports.

The Awareness Week, organised by NUSU and Inclusive Newcastle, showcased three sports: Boccia, Goalball and Polybat, as well as information stalls, a sign language course and a guest speaker evening featuring Paralympian Stephen Miller and the ‘fibro guy’ Adam Foster.

“Wilson took a while to become accustomed to the glasses and Hendley took advantage by landing his ball within centimetres of the jack”

Boccia, closely related to Bowls, is a precision ball sport where players aim red and blue balls at the jack, the white ball. The game, originally designed for  people with cerebral palsy, is now played by  athletes with other disabilities.

Our Sports Editors Calum Wilson and Alex Hendley played two games of Boccia. In the first match, Hendley played from the Wheelchair, whilst Wilson wore glasses that simulate a total loss of peripheral vision. Wilson took a while to become accustomed to the glasses and Hendley took advantage by landing his ball within centimetres of the jack.

In the second match, both editors were sporting sight-restricting glasses. Wilson’s gave him loss of central vision, whilst Hendley experienced loss of half the visual field in each eye. Hendley went close with the second throw but Wilson stole the win with his last effort.

Later, the Sports Editors joined Deputy Editor Mark Sleightholm for a game of Goalball. Goalball is played by blind athletes who try to score past one another by throwing a ball with a bell in it into a wide, low goal.

The editors went head to head with one attacker and one goalkeeper, both wearing blindfolds. Wilson started in goal and struggled to adjust to trusting his hearing over sight. Hendley fired four straight goals past his colleague before Wilson finally saved the fifth shot.

Hendley showed similarly poor form in goal, letting in all five attempts. Although the Burnley-lover might point to his height as a disadvantage.

“Hendley fired four straight goals past his colleague before Wilson finally saved the fifth shot”

Sleightholm fared slightly better, saving two of Hendley’s shots. The lanky History student used every inch of his body to stop the belled-ball.

All in all, the editors were all smiles as they enjoyed taking part in the Disability Awareness Week. Inclusive Newcastle Coordinator Liam Isaac heralded the week a success: “our main aim this week has been to increase the awareness of disability to Newcastle University student and to see students, both able bodied and disabled, interacting with our events is fantastic.

“It’s about making students aware that there is a lot of opportunities out there that they can get involved with, be that sport, general caring, or any other service that they need.”

Isaac described his delight at the fact that the University are finally working to promote disability: “there’s a lot of other campaigns going on at the University but disability has often been forgotten about. It’s important to bring this out in a visual and interactive way.”

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