With this week being International Week of the Deaf, we each have the opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges faced by the deaf and hard-of-hearing community while celebrating their remarkable achievements—particularly for us here at Sport for Life, in sport and physical activity.
In this spirit, we share the inspiring journey of Annie Lau, the Manager of Information Technology at Sport for Life. Her unwavering dedication to sports, particularly volleyball, has transformed her life and is a powerful reminder of the incredible impact that inclusive and adapted sport can have on individuals regardless of their hearing ability.
The significance of inclusivity and accessibility
Born deaf, Annie feels honoured and privileged to compete internationally in volleyball, as a member of the national deaf team. Her journey underscores the vital need for inclusivity and accessibility in sports. Commitment to physical literacy throughout life, especially for participants and athletes who are deaf and hard of hearing, is critical. She recommends the following for other participants who are deaf and hard of hearing, and particularly for programs to understand for their participants of all abilities:
- Embrace inclusivity in sports to enhance your experience, even if you’re one of the few athletes who are deaf in your region.
- Playing alongside hearing individuals can offer valuable challenges for skill improvement.
- Remember, facing and overcoming challenges is a growth path. Apply this mindset not only in sports but also in your daily life.
A triumph over COVID-19 challenges
The pandemic brought forth unique challenges, particularly for the deaf community and for lip readers like Annie. These challenges included:
- Mask mandates hindered lip reading.
- Sign language wasn’t universally understood.
- Alternate methods like pen, paper, and phones slowed conversations.
- Closure of businesses and healthcare facilities added accessibility and communication barriers.
- Phone and video calls without sign language or transcription were insufficient.
- Social connectivity, communication, and lip-reading skills suffered.
Fear stemming from Anti-Asian hate and communication barriers during COVID and the post-COVID period also significantly impacted Annie. As explained in that 2020 article, “Lau herself has been lucky during her sporting career because being Asian wasn’t a barrier to her involvement in volleyball. She played for a college varsity team and the national deaf team and never felt like she was being discriminated against because of her background. However, since COVID-19, things have changed.”
Together, these two components led to her missing training camps and competitions.
Since the pandemic began, Annie has been working to restore her lip-reading skills after mask mandates. Sport for Life transitioned to remote work with ongoing video calls and transcriptions. Outside of her job, she’s increasing her social interactions, positively impacting her involvement in volleyball. While not fully resumed, she’s embraced independent outdoor activities like biking and golfing.
Her return to the deaf volleyball training camp in Selkirk, Manitoba from January 20 to 22, 2023, was transformative. The joy of returning to the court, connecting with fellow athletes, and representing the National Deaf Women’s volleyball team at the Volleyball Canada 2023 Senior National Championship in Gatineau, QC epitomized the significance of overcoming challenges.
“It was a great feeling to have that familiar experience again post-COVID to be part of the team and enjoy the social connection while playing together again,” she said. “I felt proud to be able to overcome that fear of travelling to be with the team. And these two trips were only my second and third trips since COVID-19.”
Adaptive sport within Sport for Life
Annie, through her role on the EDIA Committee at Sport for Life and volunteering as the board secretary for the BC Deaf Sports Federation, advocates for a more inclusive and accessible sporting environment. She has learned how vital it is for participants who are deaf and hard of hearing to have the same opportunities to be physically literate and to take in the Long-Term Development framework throughout their lives.
This is how the development of Sport for Life’s Adaptive Sport Strategy came to be part of her role within the EDIA Committee. The strategy is a catalyst for change for participants who are deaf and hard of hearing—not every organization can support adapted sport accommodations (e.g., light strobing [swimming, hockey], sign language interpreters, and learning basic sign language) due to a lack of knowledge and/or budget; however, strategies like Sport for Life’s are an example of an intentional, positive step forward in the inclusive sport space.
Annie’s experience in sport, and the challenges she has overcome through the pandemic, are pertinent examples of experiences we need to consider when building programs accessible to all abilities. She gives the following advice for organizations looking to make their program as inclusive as possible, particularly for the deaf community:
- Engage and Listen: There is always a way to make sport and physical activity inclusive and accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing participants and athletes when you ask them how to support them. Reach out to participants who are deaf and hard of hearing to understand their unique needs and how to support them.
- Collaborate: Forge partnerships with organizations that work with the deaf community directly. This collaboration can lead to innovative solutions and shared resources.
- Advocate for Funding: Seek funding to enhance accessibility in your programs and spaces. This can make a significant difference in providing the necessary accommodations, ensuring a level playing field for all participants.
- Sport for Life’s Adaptive Sport Strategy
- Sport for Life’s Inclusive Physical Literacy Workshop
- BC Deaf Sports Federation
- Canadian Deaf Sports Association
- International Committee of Sports for the Deaf
As we celebrate International Week of the Deaf, let us commit to making sports and physical activities inclusive and accessible. Together, we can create a future where sports truly belong to everyone.