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Planned Calgary outdoor hockey rink a western Canada first for accessibility

Calgary has a lot of outdoor community rinks throughout its 198 neighbourhoods, but not one of them is properly set up to accommodate sledge hockey athletes.

Now one community association hopes to change that with an ambitious GoFundMe Campaign.

Amanda Affonso, president of the Parkdale Community Association, said that community’s outdoor rink is nearing the end of its lifespan.

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She said as the community association starting looking into grants, members started asking questions about making accessibility improvements to the facility.

“We have a number of users who use it from the school to Brownies,” said Affonso. “We thought, while we’re doing this expansion, what can we do to ensure it’s inclusive and accessible to all kinds of users?”

Affonso said they reached out to groups like the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association and learned that accessibility at outdoor rinks is a big problem, and not just in Calgary.

“When we contacted them, they said it would be amazing because Western Canada doesn’t have an outdoor rink that is accessible for sledge hockey,” she said, noting that the next closest one they know of is in Winnipeg.

Jason Beaman, captain of Calgary sledge hockey team The Scorpions and a member of the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association board, said he gave some Parkdale board members a tour of the new Shane Homes YMCA rink earlier this week.

That’s one of the few rinks in Calgary that has been built with sledge hockey players in mind.

Parkdale is located along the Bow River in Calgary’s northwest. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“We went through a bunch of stuff,” said Beaman. “I think it’s great. I think it’s an opportunity for sledge hockey to have another arena we can access.”

Beaman said he spoke with some of the other players, and none of them could recall playing sledge hockey on an outdoor surface in their lifetimes.

The Calgary Sledge Hockey Association has about 65 members, with players ranging in age from five through to seniors.

He said the range of disabilities varies, with some players who choose to play because knee injuries prevent them from playing standard hockey. Some players are amputees, and others have cerebral palsy.

Beaman said the association intends to provide a letter of support for the project, as well as providing any advice and feedback they can offer.

“If we can get it to the point they’re thinking and talking about – that would be huge,” said Beaman. “It would be a great opportunity for lots of us to have that chance to skate outside.”

Beaman and his teammates aren’t the only ones offering advice on the plan. Darby Young, principal accessibility strategist with Level Playing Field accessibility agency, said if constructed properly, the rink would be a ground-breaking first for Calgary.

“It would be a huge step in making sure the community outdoor rink is inclusive and everybody is able to use it,” she said.

She explained what would go into making the rink accessible. Part of it involves extra care in the pathways and gates between the parking lot, changing rooms, and the ice surface, but there are other things.

One of the most important is having transparent boards at the benches and penalty box, so players can see out.

Viewing options also need to be available for people watching the game, so someone in a wheelchair can still see over the boards.

Young said aside from a few of the newer rinks, many of Calgary’s older indoor rinks have the same barriers to accessibility that can be found at all of the outdoor rinks.

“If we can get Parkdale to do this and make it happen, it will be breaking ground for the rest of the city and leading the way in hopes of getting the rest of the community’s outdoor rinks built this way.”

Affonso said the project plans include more than just the rink. They want to make sure there’s a warming hut with changing facilities, and an outdoor gathering space to help bring people in the community together.

The community association is looking for grants wherever they can find them. They already have $125,000 from the provincial government.

The group also has a $165,000 GoFundMe Campaign. They think they can come up with the remaining $210,000 they need with other grants.

Affonso said the timeline on the project depends on how fast they can raise the money, but they’d like to move fast on the project.

“We want to have the money raised before the fall and be able to start demolition and getting the area primed and ready for construction.”