South Van non-profit scores new gear with federal grant

A new fleet of children's wheelchairs will help, but the organization is still struggling to find coaches



The BC Wheelchair Basketball Society received $55,000 in federal funding to buy a shiny new fleet of wheelchairs. Now, they just need money to pay for coaches.

The society, which promotes participation in sports for people with disabilities across B.C., received a portion of the Community Sport for All initiative late last month, that came through  Wheelchair Basketball Canada.

With the funds, the B.C. society was able to buy 10 new sport wheelchairs Tuesday.

Michelle Comeau, BC Wheelchair Basketball Society’s communications coordinator, said there is a dire need of sport wheelchairs.

“We have over 100 kids waiting on a waiting list for wheelchairs, so this will help us fill some of those spots,” Comeau said.

With the sport chairs using up $50,000 of the grant, little is left for future repairs. Meanwhile, 90 kids still await chairs.

Less coaches, less programs

“People who are wheelchair users in the province, not everyone has a sports chair, and we don’t have enough to service those people,” said Nadine Barbisan, program coordinator of the Let’s Play program run by B.C. Wheelchair Basketball Society.

The program pairs B.C. youth with disabilities with sport wheelchairs.

Barbisan said while they are grateful for all funding, they remain short of capital and paid staff to run programming across the province.

“I think we don’t have enough funding that goes specifically to pay for coaches or pay for staff’s time,” said Barbisan, who is the only full-time staff for Let’s Play and services the entire province.

The program serves 13 communities in B.C., from Southern Vancouver Island to Terrace in the north.

“We don’t have enough coaches or leaders to run the programs because I can’t be in Prince George on a Monday and then Surrey on a Tuesday,” Barbisan said.

In Metro Vancouver, programs with sport chairs are few and far between.

Darlene Antoniuk, volunteer coordinator for Let’s Play drop-in sessions in Langley and whose child is a wheelchair user, said travelling to different towns for evening sessions is tough for participants outside of Metro Vancouver. And most coaches prefer not to drive out to the Fraser Valley,

“A lot of the parents of kids with disabilities are pretty maxed out with the demands on them,” said Antoniuk, adding that makes it difficult to get people in that world to commit to something as time consuming as coaching.

Julia Townsend is a fourth-year Kwantlen student who plays wheelchair basketball competitively and got her start in the Let’s Play program. Though her commute time to Let’s Move drop-in sessions from her home in Delta is usually only 25 to 45 minutes, she knows people who travel over an hour.

“Travel time is a thing that comes up constantly in this sport,” said Townsend.

Inclusion confusion

Spencer van Vloten, a B.C. disability advocate, said federal grants like the Community Sport for All initiative that group together people with distinct needs into one category is a two-edged sword.

Community Sport for All funding is designated to sports organizations that support Black, Indigenous and racialized communities, newcomers to Canada, as well as persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ and people with low incomes.

“These groups may all face inclusion barriers, but they’re very different from one another,” said Vloten. “You’re stripping them of kind of, their identity, and that can backfire if one of the goals is to foster more inclusivity and celebration of differences and if you just put all these different groups under this one inclusion banner.”

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