Published on 28 November 2021

Disability Sport and Recreation leading the way for sporting and social equality: Q&A with Ayden Shaw

Like many, Ayden Shaw grew up with an infatuation for sport and was lucky enough to represent Victoria in cricket and football in his junior years. While the self-proclaimed “bad student” was taking a year off sport to focus on his year 12 studies, the school asked him to fill in for the football team. He decided to “come out of semi-retirement” to play one solitary game and showed no signs of rust, kicking two goals in the first quarter and was loving life. After baulking an opponent in the second quarter he felt a sharp pain in his knee and had to exit the game. Months later during his schoolies trip, Shaw found himself on top of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea and unable to get himself down. He realised he had a ruptured ACL.

“When I did my knee, I realised I couldn’t participate in sport anymore. I wanted to do something that helps other people participate in sport and that's where my inclusion mindset came from,” he said.

Ayden Shaw, Program and Events manager at Disability Sport and Recreation.

“I came from a place of real privilege. Seven days a week Dad was driving me around to football and cricket. I could go to the park or the nets by myself and I just wanted other people to have that. I feel that when you’re in a position of privilege you should be able to help others either get that privilege or be able to support more people to have the opportunity to play sport”.

In the latter stages of completing his double degree in Bachelor of Exercise Sport Science and Human Movement / Psychological Studies, Shaw found himself working five jobs. He began a placement supporting Cricket Australia’s Disability and Inclusion Championship. He also delivered junior cricket programs for Cricket Victoria, supported event activations with Event Workforce and assisted CALDplay sports programs as a volunteer for the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation.

“I took a very much say yes approach to everything, which worked, especially when you're getting started”.

In 2016, Shaw met Richard Amon (who is now his CEO) at a Vicsport event, who told him he would “keep him in mind if something came up”. A year later, the two crossed paths again at an Inclusion in Sport Forum. Amon contacted Shaw just two weeks later and invited him to a job interview. Before he knew it, Shaw was working at Disability Sport & Recreation in a hybrid role involving Health Promotion and Sport and Recreation.

“That was my touchpoint to get back into the industry and have been working with Disability Sport & Recreation ever since,” he said.



Who are Disability Sport and Recreation?​

We’re nearly 60 years old and began as the Paralympic Victoria Sports Club. We were created by eight athletes that wanted to participate at the Paralympic level but there was nothing available for them. We then evolved to become known as Wheelchair Sports Victoria.

In 2010 we rebranded to become Disability Sport & Recreation and what sets us apart from other disability organisations is that we have a broad focus on all disability types and sport and recreation.

In 2019 our new mission became to provide choice, access, and participation for people with a disability. Which in essence means we want to support people with disability to be active more often, represent the voice of people with disability, and to create a movement for change. We look over the sector and try to identify gaps and reduce duplication where we can and most importantly make sure people with a disability are being active and included in activity.



What type of work does Disability Sport & Recreation do with GESAC and other leisure facilities?

Our main involvement with GESAC is that we’ll provide equipment such as wheelchairs for events like ‘Come and Try Day’.  We have resources that a lot of others don't, so anything we can do to support those multisport ‘come and try’ days is critical in growing awareness and participation.

Students participate in a Wheelchair Basketball activation site at the GECC Come and Try day in April 2021.

While we encourage running ‘come and try’ days, what we also work on with leisure facilities is making sure they have ongoing sustainable programs for people with disability.

If leisure centres do have ongoing programs, we want to know what their delivery is like. People with disability tend to have lower participation rates compared to the population. So, if staff don't know how to talk or interact with people with disability and give a bad experience, they're not going to engage again. Anything you can do to prepare them for when they get to that centre is going to foster a good first experience and re-engagement.


Disability Sport & Recreation like to take a holistic approach and don’t claim to have all the knowledge available, can you explain how that approach works?

What we know for sure is that if you do become really good at something, that’s great, but if you don't know something at all, that's really dangerous. So, we are working with a range of different disability sport organisations to create a disability sport and recreation alliance.

In essence, the information will come to us from other organisations such as Blind Sports, Deaf Sports, Special Olympics Australia, and Paralympics Australia. We may not have the appropriate event or program, but they might, so we want to connect with them, and vice versa. It’s all about that continual improvement process as an organisation.


What type of things can people typically misunderstand about people with disability?

The first thing that is typically misunderstood is the simple fact they’re just a person. And yes, there is additional support that may be required to help them interact, connect, and work with society. But there are just as many people with disability who don’t need additional support.

The Paralympics and the media surrounding the Paralympics almost only look at people with a ‘triumph over adversity’ mindset.  I think there is a narrative that needs to change around the ‘you’ve overcome something’ approach, to instead saying ‘this is what you’ve achieved to date’, just like it is for anyone else.

Image: Shuji Kajiyama/AP


How do you think sport can be used as a vehicle for social change?

Sport is a universal language and sporting organisations can use their trusted brand and platform to connect with people and make a difference in all corners of the community by delivering programs.

We know that sport can help make a massive change in society and the Paralympics pay dispute has been a perfect example. A mainstream audience saw that there were people doing the same role as others and were questioning why they weren’t getting paid for that. It led to a petition and effectively created a dialogue of conversation.


Fifteen percent of people are living with a disability – stemming from this statistic is the #WeThe15 campaign, can you give us some insight into that movement?

The #WeThe15 movement voices that people with disability have the same desires, wants, and needs as anyone else, but also, represent a huge percentage of people in the world.

At its core, the movement wants people with disability to be at the heart of the agenda that’s being created. For example, if you’re running a program for a person with disabilities, you should probably be talking to people with disability before you run that program. And an even better example of what #WeThe15 is trying to achieve, a young man with down syndrome in London has been set as the next host of one of their kids shows. It’s looking at how people with disability should be involved within all facets of everyday life.


What opportunities can the Paralympics present?

The Paralympics is an opportunity at its core, but it needs to be backed up by meaningful action. It’s a continual process of momentum and you don’t want to be in a position where you’ve stagnated from an event like the Paralympics. Something we’re working on for when the Olympics comes to Brisbane in 2032 is to run 20-30 events immediately after the games. There will be so many people seeing Paralympic sports for the first time and thinking ‘that might be me one day’ or ‘I want to participate in that event’.


What challenges has the pandemic presented in terms of getting people with disability back into gyms and back into sport?

A barrier we’re seeing from COVID, and when programs are resuming is that clubs may not be targeting people with disability at all. Clubs who were already time poor, volunteer poor and now don’t have finances are primarily focused on getting their core business back. It results in a whole group of people being left behind.


Would an embedded connection between the health and sport sectors help grow sport participation amongst all different communities?

There is a real opportunity as an organisation to be responsible for educating and teaching allied health on the importance of sport. We’ve worked in partnership for a long period of time but there hasn’t been a structure to it, and we need a structure now.                                                                                         

We need to create linear pathways for people to access sport.  Whether those pathways be through an allied health professional or going to their club, there’s support each sector can give each other.



Are the any suggestions or ways an everyday person can do to make a difference or help drive societal change?

The first thing somebody can do is become aware of issues that are present in that community and making sure you’re an ally and letting people know you’re an ally. An example of that is people questioning why there is a preferred pronoun for people who may not identify as LGBTQI+. The reason for this is to create a safe space for that person so they know they can come and talk to you.

An example in the sports sector may be that you’re wanting to support and assist people with an intellectual disability. Whether you’re a coach or in a role that requires interaction and communication, Special Olympics have a module called SOA Learn which is upskilling you can do through an online course.


Interview and Article by Dylan Smith.

Related Articles

03 October 2021

Isabel Martin gliding towards stardom

Isabel Martin is a 1.0 point Australian wheelchair basketball player who made her Paralympic debut with the Aussie Gliders in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. GESAC was lucky enough to have Isabel as a special guest at our Paralympic Sports day in April.

23 September 2021

‘Lightbulb moment’ turns Twomey to triathlons

Image source:

Liam Twomey is a para triathlete who regularly trains at GESAC’s facilities and narrowly missed out qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.