Disability rights in Ukraine are a litmus test for democracy

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

When Ukraine emerges from conflict, the country has the promise to rebuild itself as a model for a free, fair, and inclusive society. Ensuring that the rights of people with disabilities are respected will be a major test of how well it succeeds, Virginia Atkinson and Yuliia Sachuk write.

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Air raid sirens blare across Ukraine every day. The sound signals what has become a part of Ukrainians’ daily routine: run down the steps to the basement, shelter in place, and, as millions have, trek miles to shelter or to flee.

But for those with disabilities who can’t hear those signals, who can’t access bomb shelters, who can’t make it across the border or to a shelter — they continue to be left behind.

One woman’s family — all of whom are blind — never knew where the entrance to their apartment building’s basement was. 

When the building owner told residents to shelter there, they were dismissed when they asked for directions. 

This is just one scenario where people with disabilities could not access a shelter. In 2023, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry found that nearly 900 over 4,800 shelters were locked or in a state of disrepair; a majority of the remaining shelters are inaccessible to people with disabilities.

This past week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promoted a Ukrainian peace plan, urging his allies to remain committed to Ukraine “to build, to reconstruct, to restore our lives.” 

As towns in Ukraine rebuild at this very moment, it is important to recognise that for people with disabilities, a one-size-fits-all playbook to survive and recover from the war does not exist. 

When Ukraine emerges victorious, to thrive as an inclusive democracy, it must prioritise those being left behind right now.

Russia’s full-scale invasion made matters dire

Making the country work for its increased population of people with disabilities must not wait for the end of hostilities.

Around 2.7 million Ukrainians have disabilities, estimated by the State Statistics Service, though due to stigma and discrimination against self-identifying, this number is under-reported; a 2020 survey by Ukrainian disability rights NGO Fight for Right and the Kyiv International Institution of Sociology found that 16.8% of Ukrainians have a disability, a number that is rising daily during the conflict. 

Before the full-scale invasion, Ukraine began to reform its social services to promote independence and a more rights-based approach to disability. 

In 2021, the government adopted the Strategy for Barrier-Free Society, focusing on “empowering persons with disabilities to fully participate in society and ensure they can enjoy their fundamental rights.”

But when Russia went on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, those efforts came to a screeching halt. 

Information disseminated to the public included crucial information, like curfews, where to seek shelter, and guidance on martial law. 

Oleksandr, a man with a visual disability, couldn’t find out where to buy bread during the first months of the invasion, with information largely being inaccessible due to a lack of resources in sign language, large fonts, or audio or visual formats.

As people evacuated, some left behind loved ones who were older or had a disability. According to an Amnesty International report, 4,000 older Ukrainians with disabilities have been forced into state institutions. 

As the Washington Post writes in a sobering report about internally displaced Ukrainians with disabilities, many of these institutions are in remote areas and violate international standards on access to independent decision-making for people with disabilities.

Children with disabilities are falling behind in their school lessons, with little to no support provided to families of children with disabilities.

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Even getting to the border is not a guarantee of being allowed to cross. According to Fight for Right’s estimates, thousands of men with disabilities have been refused passage across the border. 

The provisions of conscription state that persons with disabilities are not subject to conscription, but border guards are not sensitised to disability and often send men with disabilities away without any information on what documentation they need to cross.

International actors’ help needed

The challenges facing people with disabilities during the war point to the challenges that Ukraine will reckon with during reconstruction. 

The number of people with disabilities has already skyrocketed throughout the war, many of whom are wounded soldiers. As a recent AP report outlines, wounded veterans need to be given resources to independently navigate the world.

For many soldiers, children, and adults — wounded and non-wounded alike — the trauma of seeing these atrocities will undoubtedly impact their mental and emotional health for the rest of their lives.

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For Ukraine to thrive as an inclusive democracy, international actors need to prioritise identifying solutions to these issues. 

The upcoming Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin provides an opportunity to focus attention on ensuring people with disabilities are meaningfully involved in Ukraine’s recovery and reform.

Buildings should be rebuilt in an accessible manner, institutions should be abandoned in favour of strategies for people with disabilities to live independently in the community, new laws and policies developed as part of the EU accession process should align with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the elections held when martial law is lifted should be accessible to voters with disabilities.

Many of the accommodations that can be applied are ones that we already use in our everyday lives, whether it be voice-to-text software on our phones or ramps that make buildings more accessible to people with physical disabilities or for parents with young children.

Democracy is at stake

We at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Fight for Right are committed to doing our part. 

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Ahead of the 2020 local elections in Ukraine, the IFES team supported the Central Election Commission and organisations of persons with disabilities to design a QR code that allowed people with a smartphone to consume written content in Ukrainian sign language and audio format. 

This voter education dissemination method was recognised with an Innovative Practice Award from the Zero Project at the UN in Vienna. The same can be done for any other piece of what could be life-saving information. 

As Ukraine returns to ordinary democratic life, we will continue to work with Ukrainian partners to ensure that these standards are reflected in elections and that all Ukrainians have access to participate in the political process.

The global community has recognised, since the start of the full-scale invasion, that what is at stake is democracy. 

When Ukraine emerges from conflict, the country has the promise to rebuild itself as a model for a free, fair, and inclusive society. 

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Ensuring that the rights of people with disabilities are respected will be a litmus test of how well it succeeds.

Virginia Atkinson serves as Global Inclusion Adviser at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and Yuliia Sachuk is Head of the Ukrainian Fight for Right NGO.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The local skate park once terrified Jane. Now it’s her happy place

Jane McRoberts is an avid skateboarder.

The 41-year-old hits the park at Al’s Skate Co in Wodonga two to three times a week, fitting in lessons around her TAFE course, where she’s training to become an education support officer.

The park is empty at midday on Monday when she arrives, but within minutes laughter fills the space.

She isn’t used to such a warm reception – born with cerebral palsy, Ms McRoberts uses a crutch to walk, and has spent much of her life being excluded or teased for her disability.

Here, she’s just affectionately known as “Janey”.

Staff and other skaters are buoyed by her humour and positivity, and it seems like she’s been coming here forever.

From paranoia to a sense of place

But Ms McRoberts wasn’t always so comfortable in the park.

She lives with bipolar disorder, which sometimes causes psychosis. 

During a psychotic episode in early 2022, before she took up skateboarding, she hallucinated that she was being watched.

Walking by the skate park, she saw CCTV cameras that reinforced the idea that the psychosis had planted in her mind – and made Al’s a central part of her hallucination.

Alan Taylor (left), owner of Al’s Skate Co and Janey are both keen skateboarders. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Sarah Krieg)

Once she’d recovered, with the support of her psychological team, Ms McRoberts began challenging the thoughts her psychosis had convinced her were facts.

“I went around to places to give myself confidence and to stabilise and say, ‘Yeah, I’m all good, I can be within the situations where I thought I was being watched,'” she said.

“I walked in [to Al’s], and I thought, ‘How do I walk into a skate park? I can’t skate.'”

Nervously, she started browsing the skate shop, and came across a T-shirt with a creatively spelled message: “Get it strait, ride krooked.”

Ms McRoberts went to buy the T-shirt as a sort of “disability pride” statement, and cracked a joke about her cerebral palsy with the employee who served her. 

A woman in a green helmet and tshirt looks out at an indoor skatepark. Her shirt reads

Ms McRoberts says the skate park is her happy place. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Sarah Krieg)

“He was wonderful, beautiful and kind — and it was my entrance into Al’s,” she said.

“It’s been a supportive place to set me free from years of depression … it made me feel worthy of life.”

How to make a skateboard accessible

From then on, Ms McRoberts was a regular at the park.

“I just kept coming along and having coffee … growing confidence that I was allowed to live and talk to people,” she said.

Her enthusiasm was infectious, and her desire to skate became clear.

“She would write these beautiful messages, commenting on social media posts and signing off as ‘non-skater Janey’,” said Alan Taylor, owner of Al’s Skate Co.

A man pushes a rectangular prism-shaped skate frame, while the woman on a skateboard inside the frame laughs

Alan Taylor (right) says the skate centre has become a happy place for locals of all ages. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Sarah Krieg)

“We kind of went, ‘How do we make Janey a skater?'”

Shannon Dale, business manager at Al’s Skate Co, said Ms McRoberts got the staff members thinking outside the box.

A blonde woman in a beanie and black hoodie has her arm around a short-haired kid in a puffer jacket

Shannon Dale (right) is a skateboarder and business manager at Al’s Skate Co. (Supplied: Al’s Skate Co)

“She’d said a few comments to a number of staff members that she hoped in her next life, she wasn’t disabled, so she could enjoy skateboarding too,” Ms Dale said.

“We just sort of decided that we needed to make that happen for her.”

Within a week, a custom-built “skate frame” was ready to go.

When the team at Al’s presented it as a surprise, McRoberts was floored — in a good way.

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“I just felt like a skater girl, I felt like part of the community,” she said.

“Growing up, I was teased, and I did feel like an outsider, and then mental health issues have been part of life, I’ve disconnected myself from friends … [As a skater,] I felt included.”

For Ms Dale, who has since moved interstate and now works for the skate park remotely, it was a special moment having a skate with Ms McRoberts and others at a farewell party.

“Going out on having a street skate with your friends is a core memory for a lot of us as adults, and being able to recreate that for these kids and for Janey and to have it all in one [was] amazing,” Ms Dale said. 

a group of girls with skateboards and helmets flank a woman in a skate frame

Ms McRoberts, Ms Dale and fellow skater girls take to the streets of Wodonga for a sunset skate. (Supplied: Al’s Skate Co)

“It’s something special for Janey, but also for the young girls that are coming in and learning to include people no matter how different, or what their background is,” she said. 

In the frame

Talking about her experiences at the skate park is emotional for the 41-year-old. 

“There can be a thing in disability where you’re removed — you’re over there in the accessible part of the park with the disability equipment,” she said.

“So to be side by side, where I’m in the frame, and the girls are skating right beside me, is something that doesn’t often happen.”

Ms McRoberts credits the support of the skate community with giving her the confidence to chase her dreams.

She sees her studies at TAFE as a way to give young people the support she never had growing up.

A woman in a green helmet and tshirt laughs as her harness is clipped to her skate frame.

Jane McRoberts prepares to hit the park in her custom-built skate frame, with the help of staff at Al’s Skate Co.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Sarah Krieg)

“It’s just this flow-on effect,” she said.

“It’s with the love and support of these guys, to feel confident, to even just start conversing and feel like I have value in the world.”

Inclusion matters

The skate frame won’t just benefit Ms McRoberts — it’s fully adjustable, so it fits other skaters too.

“We’ve got a couple of other kids in the park who have physical disabilities … so the frame sort of came to life,” Ms Dale said.

A person stands on a skateboard inside a large frame. The skateboard is attached to the frame with elastic in four places

Skaters are strapped into the frame with a harness, and the board is attached with elastic at the base. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Sarah Krieg)

Inclusion is a cornerstone of everything the team at Al’s Skate Co set out to do, Ms Dale said.

“It doesn’t matter what your skill level is, or where you’re at, if you’ve got any physical or mental illness, it’s just about coming and being a part of the community, and everyone just getting around each other,” she said.

Almost two years on since she walked into the skate park for the first time, a lot has changed for Ms McRoberts, and she is deeply grateful.

“From one of the most awful times in my life, the most beautiful thing has happened,” she said.

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Feeling more confident, active and happier: What the World Dwarf Games mean

The crowd is a sea of green and gold Aussie supporters cheering and waving Aussie flags and inflatable kangaroos named Shazza and Tilly in the air.

It’s the women’s basketball gold medal match between Australia and the Netherlands at the World Dwarf Games.

The Australian team is on edge, huddled in a circle. Team captain Laura Mladenovic is desperately trying to connect her phone to the speaker.

It’s a pre-game ritual — the team can’t start warming up until Let’s Go Girls, from Shania Twain’s popular song, Man! I Feel Like a Woman, blasts through the speaker.

It was the first time an Australian women’s basketball team was represented at the World Dwarf Games.(Supplied: Short Statured People of Australia )

Running out of time, Laura gives up on the speaker, turns the volume on her phone all the way up, hits play, and throws her phone into the middle of the circle.

For the next four minutes, the players belt out the lyrics as they jump up and down and dance, shaking off the nerves.

Sufficiently warmed up, they do a hand pile and shout their team motto, “Slive, slove, slay!” They are ready to play.

While the Netherlands proved too strong in the gold medal match, the first Australian women’s basketball team to play at the World Dwarf Games didn’t just bring home a silver medal. They changed the game for short statured women.

“All the months of hard work and training led up to that point and we gave it everything to make history that day,” 23-year-old Mladenovic said.

“To have been captain of the inaugural Australian female basketball team was nothing short of amazing.”

World Dwarf Games levels the playing field

Short statured basketballer Lucia Bruce-Gilchrist jumps and shoots the ball.

Lucia Bruce-Gilchrist training with her Australian teammates.(Supplied: Charlie West Wilson)

“I was incredibly emotional to have won silver in our first ever women’s basketball team,” 18-year-old Lucia Bruce-Gilchrist said.

“It was the first time I’d been able to have played my best in an equal playing field, and it was so special.”

Lucia has been competing in sport for as long as she can remember. She played basketball in primary school, netball all throughout high school, and athletics and swimming her whole life. But it’s always been against people of average height.

“It’s just never really been equal. In athletics, for example, in my 100m and 200m races, I was always crossing the line last,” she said.

“I’d go into those races knowing I’m going to be last. It’s physically just not possible for me to cross the line before an average height competitor, or, for the most part, highly unlikely.”

Experienced athletes and newcomers playing together

A group of female short statured basketballers are on the court training.

Players on the Australian women’s basketball team have come from a range of different sporting backgrounds. (Supplied: Charlie West Wilson)

The nine women on the Australian team vary in ages and backgrounds and come from all over Australia. Among them were experienced World Dwarf Games athletes and newcomers to sport.

Kate Colley is one of the newcomers. Before joining the new team, Kate did little exercise.

The 19-year-old felt it was never an even playing field playing against or alongside people of average height.

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Bringing smiles and a sense of freedom on the water for people with disabilities

Jason East sits behind the steering wheel of a pontoon boat with nothing but the gentle breeze off the water and the passing sailboats to distract him.

“When you’re out on the water it’s like leaving your disability behind,” Mr East says.

“We’re all equal on the water and there’s a real freedom in that.”

Jason East might need a wheelchair on land but on the water he says he is free.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Mr East, who ordinarily uses a wheelchair, manoeuvres through the calm waters of Cairns’ Trinity Inlet in Far North Queensland.

It’s his second trip of the day taking a boatload of passengers with disabilities for a gentle, afternoon sail.

Being on the water is second nature for the 46-year-old skipper after growing up on his family’s yacht and working on boats in the Torres Strait.

But that idyllic lifestyle was up-ended 14 years ago after a motor vehicle crash left him using a wheelchair.

It took years of soul-searching and physical therapy before Mr East was ready to get back on the water.

pontoon boat on water

Jason now volunteers with Sailability and loves seeing the joy on people’s faces when they are out on the water.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Accepting and embracing change

At 32 years of age doctors labelled Mr East’s injury as “incomplete”, meaning the spinal cord was not severed completely, but he did lose all movement from the neck down.

It took 12 months in hospital and three years of depression before he was ready to come to terms with his injuries.

“It was a big adjustment coming home, trying to fit back into my old life and learning to accept myself,” Mr East says.

Man on left close up of face and man on right in wheelchair

Sailing has strengthened a lot of Jason’s muscle groups and given him more mobility.(Supplied: Jason East)

He discovered Sailability, an Australia-wide club that takes people with a disability sailing, and despite being “quite scared” initially it reignited his passion for the water.

“I’d been a commercial crayfish diver, and then after the accident I couldn’t swim,” he says.

“But once I started coming down to the club I fell back in love with the water all over again, and it’s actually strengthened a lot of my muscle groups and given me more mobility.”

Mr East has developed movement in his arms, the trunk of his body, and partial movement in one leg.

two sailboats on the water

The volunteers get much enjoyment from seeing the smiles on the faces of their passengers.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

He is passionate about using his life experiences to help others, giving talks at schools, youth justice, and for the last eight years volunteering with Sailability.

“I love sharing my passion [for sailing] and taking others out on the water and watching them smile,” he says.

“When we’re on land we have a visible disability, but when we’re on the boat we can leave our chairs and our walking aids back on land and we’re all equal.

“There’s no judgement and their smiles tell a million words and that’s all you need.”

Man in walker walking down ramp

The ramp ensures people in wheelchairs or with walkers can access the pier.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Inclusive not exclusive

Jennifer Crellin is one of the passengers on Mr East’s boat who cannot wipe the smile from her face.

She’s always been captivated by the water, she explains, but after a water slide accident at Lake Placid in Cairns 33 years ago left her using a wheelchair and an incomplete C6 quadriplegic, it took years before she had the courage to get back on a boat.

“On the day of my accident I had been coming down the water slide and a boy was climbing up at the same time and we collided,” Ms Crellin said.

“I actually grew up around water and sailing with my dad so after my accident I didn’t think it was possible I could sail again.

“The very first time I did get back into a boat it was really emotional for me.”

lady on left in wheelchair and lady on right close up face

Jennifer Crellin is grateful to Sailability for helping her get out on the water again.(Supplied: Jennifer Crellin)

The 56-year-old now regularly sails with Sailability, often in a two-man sailboat with one of the volunteers for support.

“I love not being bound by a chair,” she says.

“I love everything — the feeling of the wind and just hearing the water beneath me.”

Ms Crellin has now started taking her grandkids out with her some days, hoping to pass on her love of sailing.

“It’s hard to explain, but the sense of freedom is incredible,” she says.

Lady in orange hat with child cuddled up to her

Jenny loves sharing her love of sailing with granddaughter Zoe.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

A community on the water

Sailability is a national charity with 70 clubs throughout Australia.

Geoff Grace, the president of Queensland Sailability and volunteer with Brisbane’s Bayside Club, says each state has its own organisation but all operate with similar programs.

two men helping a sailboat coming back to the pier

There are plenty of volunteers on hand to help with getting sailors in and out of the boats.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

“We take out school kids as young as eight, all the way up to people in their 90s living in nursing homes,” Mr Grace says.

“The only must-have is a competent skipper and then the sky is the limit.”

Two men on a boat.

Jeff Crofts catching up with Jason East before he takes his second boatload down the inlet.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

In Cairns, between 15 and 30 people with a range of disabilities take to the water each week, says local Sailability president Jeff Crofts.

“We have people sail with us that are paraplegic, quadriplegic, have intellectual disabilities or physical challenges,” he says.

“Our club also has a special hoist that uses a sling to lift people out of their wheelchairs and over into the seats of the sailboats so they can enjoy sailing like the rest of us.”

Man in sling being lifted into boat

The Cairns club has a special hoist to lift people over into the seats of sailboats.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

The Cairns club is one of 15 in Queensland.

“We just have to give them a boat so they can get out and enjoy themselves. The problem is getting them to bring the boat back,” Mr Crofts says.

“That’s why they call us ‘smile-ability’ because people can’t wipe the smiles off their faces.”

Sailboat on water with mangroves behind them

Perfect sailing conditions for an afternoon on the water.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

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Isolated in a hearing world: How Deaf basketball changed Jarrod’s life

As a teenager, Jarrod McEwen-Young avoided going to parties.

Profoundly Deaf in both ears, the Gomeroi man found trying to have a conversation among all the other voices and loud music was too stressful.

As one of only two Deaf people in his hometown of Gilgandra, on Wiradjuri country in central western New South Wales, growing up was often a lonely experience.

“It was hard to fit in at times,” he said.

The now 23-year-old lost his hearing after contracting meningococcal meningitis as a baby.

He was raised and educated in a hearing world.

Jarrod McEwen-Young found it hard to fit in when he was young.()

He had encouraging parents and supportive teachers, but it wasn’t until he was picked for the Australian Deaf basketball team that he first felt he belonged among a group of people.

“It was a shock … realising how many Deaf people there are in the world and how they stick together,” he said.

As a child he had surgery to insert cochlear implants — removable devices that provide a sense of sound and help to understand speech.

The implants open a door into the hearing world, but when he discovered other Deaf and hard of hearing people he truly felt at home.

“Being around my teammates, seeing how they went out into the world and could be themselves with confidence [gave me confidence],” he said.

The young man who made coaches proud

It was a support teacher at his school who introduced him to Deaf Basketball Australia.

Initially McEwen-Young played in the Under 21s competition, before trying out for the Australian men’s side, the Goannas.

When coach Brent Reid, known as Stretch, met him he saw right away the young man had a knack for reading basketball, and potential to develop as a player.

“Just on basketball ability we were always going to give him a shot,” he said.

“But here was this kid who wanted to be coached, who wanted to learn, who wanted to grow … you can’t say no to that sort of person.”

Brent aka “Stretch” says he’s very proud of Jarrod.()

When McEwen-Young started training with the Goannas he was shy and — as he puts it —”pretty unhealthy”.

He weighed 130 kilograms, 40 more than his current weight.

“With each training camp he came back fitter and fitter,” Stretch said.

“The more he put in the more he got out of the game and the more opportunities he got.”

Having coached the Goannas for eight years, Stretch, who can hear, has seen many of the players hit major milestones off court too.

“We’ve seen guys get married, buy houses, have children,” he said.

“Guys starting uni, graduating uni, going and getting their first jobs.”

Jarrod credits the Goannas with giving him the self-belief to aim high in life.()

Off court McEwen-Young is studying at university and hopes to return to work on country in either sports science or physiotherapy.

He credits the team with giving him the self-belief to aim high in life.

“[Stretch] coaches me on court but he’s always teaching me things off court as well,” he said.

“When the coaches picked me that gave me some confidence that someone else had confidence in me … and I wanted to repay them by getting in the best shape possible for the next tournament.”

The ‘dead silent’ game of Deaf basketball

To qualify for the Australian Deaf Basketball teams, players must have hearing loss of 55 decibels or more.

With this level of hearing loss a person might only just be able to pick up that someone is talking, because most conversations are held at about 60dB.

During Deaf basketball, athletes communicate using sign language.()

Stretch said apart from having to communicate visually, the biggest difference between Deaf and hearing basketball was the quietness.

“You go to a [hearing] game and everyone is screaming at each other,” he said.

“You go to our game and it’s dead silent; even when someone scores a basket the Auslan sign for cheering is a [wave of the hands].”

For the most part the mechanics of Deaf basketball are similar to the hearing version.

Before hitting the court athletes remove their cochlear implants and other hearing aids to ensure the playing field is level — that is, no-one can hear.

The Goannas will be playing in the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships next week.()

During the game, players need to be looking for signals from the coach and referee in international sign language, observing everyone’s next move and watching for lights that flash when the whistle is blown.

Instructions and strategy notes are written on a whiteboard and athletes communicate using sign language.

Teammate Sam Cartledge said it wasn’t overly tricky to have all eyes on the court because it was a life skill Deaf people were familiar with.

“It’s what we do in everyday life,” he said.

“If someone’s talking, we need to work out who’s talking and what they’re talking about and then someone else speaks and you have to navigate to where they are.”

Goannas a ‘Deaf family’ as well as a team

Born Deaf and receiving a cochlear implant as a toddler, Cartledge also experienced social isolation growing up.

“It was hard at lunchtime at school, I tended to withdraw, I would go and play sports as a coping mechanism,” he said.

“Then when I found the Deaf basketball team just the fact they were the same as me, had the same experiences … it just meant I could socialise with them and share those experiences.”

Sam Cartledge says the Goannas have become his best friends.()

When the ABC met up with the Goannas they were preparing to head off to the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships on the Greek island of Crete, where they’ll play against Venezuela, China and Greece.

Cartledge said the tournament was not just a sporting event, but also a celebration of community.

“They are my Deaf family, they’re my best friends,” he said.

“I don’t know where life would be without this group of boys.”

Jarrod McEwen-Young felt truly at home when he found Deaf basketball.()

McEwen-Young feels the same.

“Joining the team changed my life,” he said.

“It’s opened so many doors for me not just on the basketball court but off court as well in life and I’m pretty grateful to have this [overseas] experience with these guys… it’s amazing.”

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Australian paraclimbing champion ‘not ashamed of being an amputee’

Just four years ago, Sarah Larcombe embraced rock climbing for the first time.

The Australian paraclimbing champion — who has gone on to represent the country across the globe and win at World Cups — said it was something that she wished she had done sooner.

“Being up high on a climbing wall is the best feeling. It is so freeing,” Larcombe said.

“Climbing is actually the perfect adaptive sport. I really wish that I started climbing when I was younger.

“I really feel like there are things that I can do up on a climbing wall that I can’t do on the ground: The way that you can move your body and that freeing feeling is just nothing like you can experience anywhere else.”

However, it has been far from easy.

Throughout high school, Larcombe wanted to fit in and struggled to come to terms with living with a disability.

Despite being an amputee her entire life and using a prosthetic right leg, the AL2 climber describes her journey as taking “a really long time to get there”.

“When I was a kid, I was a tree climber. We had a massive pear tree in my backyard, and I just lived in that tree,” she said.

“Sometimes, you just wake up, and you decide, ‘I just really wish I had two legs today. It would just make my life so much easier.'”

Sarah Larcombe fell in love with the sport after only taking it up in 2019.()

Pressure of feeling valued

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