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ARCHIE ALLISON Rules the Court of Inclusion

DTN: You started at Variety Village as an all-around sports and rec instruc- tor-coach-counselor-mentor person. Today you are the Director of Access and Awareness at what many global activity leaders consider the best inclusive family-friendly fitness, sports and life skills facility in the world. How has your role changed at the Village over the years.

Archie: Honestly, it hasn’t much. I’m still promoting opportunities for people of all abilities. Now I’m mostly doing that through education and outreach. I work with schools, community groups and organiza- tions and teach courses in adapted sports and disability issues at sever- al local community colleges and the University of Toronto. Where I used to work more with our next gener- ation of activity enthusiasts with disabilities, I’m now reaching out to our next generation of educators and sports and rec professionals.

DTN: You also oversee the facility’s Cooperative Education and Ability in Action programs, right?

Archie: Yes, they’re both really important programs here too. The Ability in Action program sees over 8,000 participants – students and teachers – come to Variety Village each year for an introduction to adaptive sport equipment and the importance of inclusion in play, recreation and sport. The program is open to students with and without disabilities, encouraging greater

awareness of inclusive activities. But really, at the end of the day, we are promoting a sense of belonging for all.

DTN: At the heart of the matter it’s all about inclusion, correct?

Archie: It is. We see a lot of kids who don’t participate in physical activity often enough because they lack the confidence to join in, or feel that they don’t have the skill set to play, or who just are not aware of the opportunities that are out there for them. By introducing them to sports like wheelchair basketball, or goalball, or rock-wall climbing, or synchronized swimming, or power wheelchair hockey, for example, we show them that it is possible to participate with their peers.

DTN: What’s the overriding message for those who come to the Village as students or teachers... those without disabilities?

Archie: We try to impart upon them the understanding that everyone has a role in inclusion in our com- munities, be it at school, in commu- nity programs, or at home. Inclusive programming doesn’t have to be that difficult. It is often a misper- ception of what inclusion means that holds people back, particularly those involved with coaching or programming. What happens here at the Village is that those students or teachers who get to know partic- ipants with special needs become

more comfortable with the concept of inclusion. Like most things in life, it comes down to personal relation- ships that prove to be most effective in making changes, or making a difference in others’ lives.

DTN: How about for those with disabilities?

Archie: It’s so important for them to believe in themselves, and believe in their right to participate in inclusive sport and play opportunities. That always seems to be one of the key ingredients in the recipe for suc- cess.

DTN: How does Variety Village facilitate those ingredients?

Archie: We provide an atmosphere of belonging, of safety and security here, where families with children with disabilities who are here for the very first time immediately feel welcome and included. We bridge a gap for these families from limited opportunities to plenty of physical activity for their kids.

DTN: The Village doesn’t discriminate against able-bodied people... your doors are open to all members of the Toronto community, and beyond. But clearly this facility made provisions for those with disabilities first... I think what some call “reverse integration”?

Archie: People get caught up in terminology. I look at what I do as providing an opportunity for every-


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